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Beginning Sentences With And, But, Or, or For

For practice using coordinating conjunctions to begin sentences, review the examples below. Then complete the practice exercise.

Review

Many well-meaning but mistaken elementary school teachers tell young writers never to begin sentences with and, but, or, or for. It is acceptable to start a sentence occasionally with a coordinating conjunction such as and, but, or, or for. Remember, however, that occasionally is the key word. When you use and, but, or, or for to begin sentences too frequently, your writing becomes disjointed and feels choppy to the reader. These words are helpful, though, when you’re trying to emphasize something or to create a stylistic variation. Consider the following examples:

I want you all to go out and have fun tonight, but please be careful.
I want you all to go out and have fun tonight. But please be careful!

Can you sense the difference? Both sentences convey the same information, but the first example simply tacks “please be careful” on at the end. The second sentence emphasizes the charge to be careful. It’s almost as if your mother were speaking to you and several of your friends. She really does want you to have fun. But she’s more concerned that you’re safe.

The same basic principle applies to and, or, and for. Notice how the following paragraphs aren’t as effective as they might be. They are disjointed and choppy to read. It would be a rare exception to start two sentences in the same paragraph with coordinating conjunctions—let alone the same one.

 Poor Example:

Yesterday my friends and I went downtown to check out the construction site for the new library. And while we were there, we decided to try a Chinese restaurant we had read about in the student paper. The food was great and so was the service. And the prices were quite reasonable on the lunch menu we saw. And after that we drove to the movie theater to buy tickets for the late show.

Too many “ands” begin sentences in the paragraph above. The paragraph seems disjointed and poorly planned.

 Poor Example:

Yesterday my friends and I went downtown to check out the construction site for the new library. And while we were there, we decided to try a Chinese restaurant we had read about in the student paper. But if the Chinese place was closed, we wanted to just grab a burger. Luckily, our first choice was open and the food was great—and so was the service. Or so it seemed. But everything went well until my date asked for a drink refill, and it took 20 minutes for the waiter to get back to our table! And, the place wasn’t even that busy.

Too many coordinating conjunctions begin sentences in the paragraph above. The paragraph seems choppy and disjointed as a result.

 Better Example:

Yesterday my friends and I went downtown to check out the construction site for the new library. While we were there, we decided to try a Chinese restaurant we had read about in the student paper. If the Chinese place was closed, we wanted to just grab a burger. Luckily, our first choice was open and the food was great—and so was the service. Or so it seemed. Everything went well until my date asked for a drink refill, and it took 20 minutes for the waiter to get back to our table! The place wasn’t even that busy.

Although the paragraph above isn’t perfect, it reads much more smoothly than the others. Starting the sentence “Or so it seemed” with the coordinating conjunction or gives it power and effect and is a good stylistic choice.

Practice Exercise 

  1. Write a paragraph about a restaurant you’ve visited recently. Start at least half the sentences with and, but, or, or for.

  2. Rewrite the paragraph, beginning only one sentence with a coordinating conjunction.

  3. What differences do you notice about how the text reads?

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