You may have heard from a well-meaning high school English teacher the rule that says you should never start a sentence with “And” or “But.” But maybe you’ve seen other writers doing it, even in published novels. So what gives?
As with all “rules” of writing, there are myths and truths to this idea. Let’s take a deeper look at when it’s okay to begin sentences with “And” in your own writing and when to try starting sentences in a different way.
What’s the big deal about starting with “And”?
First of all, why do we have this rule in the first place? Well, bridge-type words like “and” or “but” are known as coordinating conjunctions. There are seven coordinating conjunctions in the English language:
The main reason reason we’ve learned not to start a sentence with “And” is because a coordinating conjunction usually comes right in the middle of a sentence.
What is a coordinating conjunction in writing?
A coordinating conjunction is a word that join two sentences, phrases, or sentence fragments together. They’re usually used to expand on an idea. For example, “I missed the bus to school, so I was late.” Or, “I missed the bus to school, but I made it on time anyway.”
An example using the coordinating conjunction “And” might be, “I walked to school this morning, and I met a friend along the way.” If you break this into two sentences—“I walked to school this morning. And I met a friend along the way.”—it can look a bit awkward and disjointed. Even if you’re not sure why, it feels off when you’re reading it.
Can you start a sentence with “And”?
So is it ever okay to begin sentences with conjunctions like “And”? Yes! It is perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with “And,” especially in less formal writing. Nearly everybody starts sentences with “And” in their day-to-day lives, so writing sentences in this way can make your dialogue feel more realistic.
However, there are times when you shouldn’t begin a sentence with “And” in your writing—watch out for incomplete sentence fragments that can’t stand on their own. To check if your sentence is grammatically correct, try taking the “And” away and see if it still reads like a complete sentence. For example:
“I went ice skating last night. And I fell flat on my face!”
“I went ice skating last night.
AndI fell flat on my face!”
Both of these are independent clauses, or sentences that are complete by themselves.
Compare to these sentences:
“At the ice rink, I met an old friend. And joined him for dinner.”
“At the ice rink, I met an old friend.
andJoined him for dinner.”
The second half is a sentence fragment; it feels incomplete, like it’s lacking an essential piece. In this case it’s better to use the word “and” as a conjunction to bridge the two clauses together.
The secret trick to starting a sentence with “And”
You may notice that in these examples, the complete sentences can still feel a little choppy—even though they’re grammatically correct. You can solve this by using a buffer in between the two sentences. In fiction writing, this will often be a dialogue tag or an action tag.
Let’s look at the example from above:
“I walked to school this morning. And I met a friend along the way.”
“I walked to school this morning.” He pulled off his jacket and hung it up by the door. “And I met a friend along the way.”
“I went ice skating last night. And I fell flat on my face!”
“I went ice skating last night,” she said. “And I fell flat on my face!”
Nothing about these sentences has changed, except that the reader is given a little more breathing room. This quick and easy trick makes the sentences feel more natural and rhythmic on the page.
Why was everyone taught this rule about “And”?
Beginning a sentence with a conjunction isn’t really a grammar mistake—in fact, we’ve been doing it in our speech for over a thousand years! So why have English teachers drummed it into the heads of impressionable youths since time immemorial?
In academic settings, even from a young age, we’re taught to convey clear, concise ideas. Children have a tendency to overuse sentences beginning with coordinating conjunctions: And then this… And then this… And then… This rule emerged to try and break negative speech habits that were finding their way into writing, making the prose difficult to read.
So even though starting a sentence with “And” is one of those grammatical rules that isn’t as rigid as one might think, it’s still best to use this type of sentence sparingly so it doesn’t overwhelm your writing.
Examples of sentences starting with “And”
Let’s take a look at a few more examples and explore why beginning a sentence with “And” works in certain contexts and not in others.
I met someone at the library today. And on Thursday, we’re going for coffee.
Why it works: Rather than expanding on the previous idea, here “And” is used to kick off a new, related idea. It represents an “in addition”—in addition to this first sentence, here’s another sentence that will give you more information. If you remove the “And,” each sentence can stand alone as a complete, grammatically correct, independent idea.
My favorite places in the city are the art gallery. And the natural history museum.
Why it doesn’t work: This reads like a sentence that’s been cut in half. If you remove the “And,” you have one standalone sentence and one sentence fragment that hangs out like that awkward kid at a party.
If this is a scene you’re writing, you can rescue this sentence by adding an action tag: “My favorite place in the city is the art gallery.” She paused, considering. “And the natural history museum.” Now it reads like a natural extension like we would hear in everyday speech.
So we got our entry in at the very last minute. And you know what? We won!
Why it works: Here, the “And” sentence reads a bit like an extended coordinating conjunction. It’s used to bridge the first idea and the second idea. Saying, “And you know what?” creates a rhythmic beat that heightens tension in the moment and leads the reader or listener directly into a new sentence.
It isn’t wrong to begin sentences with “And” after all
It’s actually okay to begin a sentence with a conjunction like “And,” despite what you may have learned in school. It can even be a useful way to capture real, natural speech within your story. Conjunctions are important pieces of everyday language, and starting a sentence with words like these can enhance your writing—as long as you’re doing it with the right intention.