Can you start a sentence with a conjunction?
For many of us, our English lessons at school were marked by the stern admonition: ‘Never begin a sentence with a conjunction!’. I was taught this ‘rule’ as a grammatical diktat back in the 1970s, and a quick trawl of the Net shows that the same advice is still being handed down to English students on many websites.
And yet perfectly respectable writers employ this disputed usage, and have done since Anglo-Saxon times. Many grammar and usage experts have also tried to squash this myth, but it seems to be set in stone. Here’s my own attempt to chip away at the foundations of this grammatical ‘superstition’ (as Henry Fowler terms such mistaken beliefs).
To find out the rationale (if any) for the ban on introductory ands (and buts, and even becauses), let’s go back to basics: what’s a conjunction and what role does it play?
- A conjunction is a word such as and, but, because, while,until, although, or if.
- Conjunctions are a class of word used to link sentences, clauses, phrases, or other words.
There are two main types of conjunction:
A coordinating conjunction is one that joins elements of a sentence that are equally important. English has just seven of these: and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet.
- You can remember the coordinating conjunctions by arranging their initial letters into a handy acronym:
F[or] A[nd] N[or] B[ut] O[r] Y[et] S[o].
- Coordinating conjunctions link words:
|Serve||the||ribs||with||creamy mashed potatoes||or||crusty white bread.|
|noun phrase||coordinating conjunction||noun phrase|
|I||can||do||simple||stuff,||such as peeling potatoes||or||chopping leeks and apples.|
|subordinate clause||coordinating conjunction||subordinate clause|
So much for the elements of a sentence – below I’ll also look at sentences themselves.
All the above examples of coordinating conjunctions show connection between elements of equal status in a sentence.
Subordinating conjunctions, on the other hand, link a main clause of a sentence to a subordinate one (i.e. the subordinate clause doesn’t mean anything on its own – it needs the main clause to complete the meaning).
- This type of conjunction includes the words because, until, unless, since, if, and although.
- Here are some examples:
|He has the respect of the players||because||they know how good he is.|
|main clause||subordinating conjunction||subordinate clause|
|He says he has the team shirt,||although||I’ve never seen him wear it.|
|main clause||subordinating conjunction||subordinate clause|
|If||you have a complaint,||write to the director.|
|subordinating conjunction||subordinate clause||main clause|
As you can see, subordinating conjunctions can be placed at the start of a sentence with no breach of grammatical ‘rules’. But what about ‘because’? More on this special case below…
So…can we start a sentence with and?
So the heart of the ban on starting a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’ seems to lie in the fact that they are coordinating rather than subordinating conjunctions, and as such are typically used to link elements of equal status within a sentence. The argument against using ‘and’ or ‘but’ to introduce a sentence is that such a sentence expresses an incomplete thought (or ‘fragment’) and is therefore incorrect.
However, this is a stylistic preference rather than a grammatical ‘rule’. If your teachers or your organization are inflexible about this issue, then you should respect their opinion, but ultimately, it’s just a point of view and you’re not being ungrammatical. If you want to defend your position, you can say that it’s particularly useful to start a sentence with these conjunctions if you’re aiming to create a dramatic or forceful effect. As the following examples show, the introductory conjunction gives more weight to the thought expressed in the sentence (a comma would be far less emphatic):
It’s a pretty smart and progressive budget. But do you think those changes go far enough?
Some people are calling this film the worst movie ever. And who are we to argue?
Putting ‘but’ or ‘and’ at the start of a sentence is also an effective way of showing surprise:
Dworkin’s answer is no. But why not?
Who would have thought it? And is it really true?
You could also refer to the fact that you’re in very good company (examples can be found in the work of writers such as Susan Sontag, Vladimir Nabokov, Kingsley Amis, P.G. Wodehouse, and Albert Einstein) and that highly respected grammar and usage guides (such as Fowler and Garner) all agree that it’s a perfectly acceptable practice.
Just a word of warning, though: although you now have grammatical ‘permission’ to start a sentence this way, don’t go overboard! It’s perfectly acceptable to use this device judiciously, but remember there’s no value in separating short statements with full stops when you’re not intending to make an emphatic effect:
X They walked to the top of the hill. And then they had a rest. And ate their sandwiches.
Hoorah! But hang on a minute, what about ‘because’?
Because I say so!
‘Because’ is a subordinating conjunction, and as we’ve seen, these are perfectly acceptable at the start of a sentence. While no one objects to a sentence that starts with ‘if’, ‘although’, or ‘since’, ‘because’ is a different kettle of fish. Many of us have been taught the same ‘rule’ as for ‘and’ and ‘but’, banning us from using ‘because’ to introduce a sentence.
This probably stems from the fact that teachers find that younger students may open a sentence with ‘because’ but only follow it with a subordinate clause – that is, they tend to write in short bursts, rather than complete the thought with a main clause in the same sentence:
|X We went swimming.||Because it was so hot.|
All you need do to avoid such an incomplete fragment is to link the two together to make a logical progression of thought in the same sentence:
|√ Because it was so hot,||we went swimming.|
|subordinate clause||main clause|
Moreover, in day-to-day speech you’ll often find ‘because’ at the start of an answer to a question, whether spoken or implied. Most people will recognize ‘Because I say so!’ as an exasperated parental response to continual questioning by offspring, and few would think it was ungrammatical. And finally, probably the most famous example of an introductory ‘because’ is to be found in the advertising slogan ‘Because I’m worth it!’ (perhaps replying to an implicit question ‘Why spend all that money on cosmetics?’).
But have I succeeded in debunking this particular myth? I sincerely hope so (and yes, I’ve been deliberately sprinkling introductory coordinating conjunctions throughout this piece!).
- The opinions and other information contained in OxfordWords blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.
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16 Substitutes for “Because” or “Because Of”By Mark Nichol
Many words or phrases can be used to set up an explanation. The most common is because (or “because of”), but others have their uses. Here are alternatives and a discussion of their uses and their merits.
1. As: As is a direct synonym for because (for example, “He opted not to go see the movie, as it had gotten poor reviews”), but it’s inferior.
2. As a result of: This phrase is a substitute for “because of,” not because, as in “As a result of his intervention, the case was reopened and they were ultimately exonerated.”
3. As long as: This informal equivalent of because is used to express the thought that given that one thing is occurring or will occur or is true, another is possible, in such statements as “As long as you’re going, could you pick some things up for me?”
4. Being as (or being as how or being that): This phrase has the same sense — and the same formality — as “as long as.”
5. Considering that: This phrase is essentially identical in meaning to “as long as” and “being as” and its variants.
6. Due to: Like “as a result of,” “due to” is a preposition, rather than a conjunction like because, and is used in place not of because alone but instead of “because of.” It applies specifically to an explanation of why something occurred or will or will not occur, as in “Due to the large number of applications, we cannot respond individually to each applicant.”
7. For: This substitute for because is reserved for poetic usage, as in “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
8. Inasmuch as: This phrase is a very formal equivalent of because, as in “Inasmuch as his account has been discredited, I wouldn’t believe anything else he says.”
9. In view of the fact that: This phrase is identical in sense to “inasmuch as.”
10. Now that: This phrase informally connotes cause and effect, as in “Now that you’re here, we can proceed.”
11. Out of: This phrase applies to explanations of emotion or feeling — for example, “She asked out of compassion” or “Out of spite, I refrained from passing the message along.”
12. Owing to: This phrase is equivalent to “due to”; the two choices are more formal than “because of.”
13. Seeing that: This phrase is identical to “considering that.”
14. Since: This alternative to because is informal and is considered inferior because since primarily refers to elapsed time and the usage might be confused, as in “Since it had rained, we didn’t need to water the garden”; the reader might not realize until reading the second half of the sentence that the sense is causal rather than temporal.
15. Thanks to: This equivalent of “because of,” despite the wording, can apply to either a positive or a negative outcome; “Thanks to your meddling, we’re receiving much unwanted attention” demonstrates the latter sense.
16. Through: Through is a preposition; it takes the place of “because of,” as in “Through the efforts of these charities, the city’s homeless services have been reinstated.”Recommended for you: « 3 Functions of the Comma »
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10 Responses to “16 Substitutes for “Because” or “Because Of””
- Zara M.
to D. A. W.
you need to chill
the list above can be very useful for high school essays
- Dale A. Wood
Sorry for the typographical error: American.
- Dale A. Wood
The word “as” is one of those favorite words from British English, and I think that Amercian and Canadian English do a lot better with “because” and “since”.
Isn’t it probable that “as” wormed its way into use because of the ridiculous tabloids? I think that American tabloids are horrid, and the British ones are even worse!
“Because” is actually a golden word in copywriting. It’s one of the strongest hooks in the profession, because it’s a great setup to prove whatever claims you’re making about a product or service.
The list above, while handy for term papers and proposals, would be death for any sales-focused or marketing writing.
- Mark Nichol
It’s just a matter of degree of acceptance in standard English usage; as in the sense of because is considered colloquial, and not appropriate for formal writing.
- Dale A. Wood
Here is another example of (American Southern) dialects replacing “because”:
“Give me $4.00 now: I’m standing in the need of a beer.”
- Dale A. Wood
“In view of the fact that” should NOT even be mentioned because it is WORDY, WORDY, WORDY, UNNECESSARILY WORDY.
Please do not even consider such wordy concatenations!
Also, as far as I am concerned, “owing to” is strictly British English and it must be avoided in North America on that basis.
“In light of the fact that” has the same two problems as the above.
I would rather see a string of Latin and French phrases than to see any of the above. E.g.:
That is “prima facie” evidence of the “a priori” fate that the Blue Bird should pull your tongue and uvula out “en masse”!
I don’t have time to comment as much as I’d like, but my mother would have yanked my tongue out of my throat if I had said “being as,” “seeing as,” (or any of the variations) in range of her ears. Maybe that is a north vs south kind of thing, I don’t know.
Also, I know you’ve already posted about “due to” and “owing to,” and I feel those phrases should be reserved for the specific occasions when they are correct. Otherwise, IMHO I would use “secondary to” or something like that, when something is not actually “due” (i.e. owed) to anyone/anything.
Mark, could you please explain why “as” is inferior to “because”?
I like “allowing as how” — it has a sort of folksy twang, useful in certain contexts.