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Since I first learned English, I have been holding this understanding that "and", as a conj. but unlike "but", can only connect two clauses, not two sentences ended with periods.

But recently, I have seen so many prints, either in entertainment or in academia, where "And" is popularly used in the beginning of a sentence. It seems like the author is trying to connect the sentence just right before and the sentence following "And" in some intended meaning which I don't quite get.

I was wondering if I have been wrong all the time, or if there is a new trend that I fail to understand and accept? How to understand such usage of "and" in rigorous English grammar? If I am right, why it is used differently from "but" in terms of what I mentioned at the beginning of this post?

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"And did those feet / In ancient time / Walk upon England's mountains green?" –  MT_Head Oct 3 '12 at 3:57

7 Answers 7

up vote 52 down vote accepted

Small children have a particular writing style that teachers often mark as wrong.

We had a field trip. And we went to the zoo. And we saw monkeys. And they were funny. And then we went home. And the bus was noisy.

Nobody thinks that's a well-written story. So the teacher circles all the "And"s and says "don't start a sentence with and". But somehow we all internalize that as a rule for all of life — which it isn't.

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So, I see what you did there! :-) But more seriously, I think this answer really hits the nail on the head. –  PLL Mar 19 '11 at 22:20
    
can you provide an example? –  ahnbizcad Apr 6 at 16:30
    
@ahnbizcad of what? –  Kate Gregory Apr 6 at 18:25
    
An example demonstraing this. "But somehow we all internalize that as a rule for all of life — which it isn't." So is it simply that using it any time is a stylistic choice, or is it that according to some rule that makes some uses OK, and others not? –  ahnbizcad Apr 6 at 21:33
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@ahnbizcad there is no rule that you can't start a sentence with "and", "but", "so" or any other conjunction. Some such sentences are not well written and would be better if you rewrote them a little. That does not mean the rule sometimes applies. The rule doesn't exist. Many great sentences start with conjunctions. (To be fair, so do some horrible ones.) Many people (such as the person who asked this question) believe the rule exists. My answer explains both that it does not exist, and a typical mechanism that causes people to believe it exists. I am not sure I can do more than that. –  Kate Gregory Apr 6 at 21:36

It is perfectly all right to begin a sentence with a conjunction. It is a special form of emphasis, used to elevate a clause to a position of more influence and importance.

I hold that all beets are red. And I will stick to that belief until you show me a green beet.

We were tired, hungry, and exhausted. But we were home.

It can also be used as a summation of previous statements.

[Blah blah blah ... fairy tale or fable ... blah blah] And that is how the elephant's nose grew into the long trunk it has today.

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I essentially agree with both answers given thus far: It's a grammatical construction, but be wary. –  Uticensis Mar 19 '11 at 16:01
    
Would the "tired, hungry" example be better with an em-dash instead of a full stop? –  Neil G Mar 19 '11 at 20:22
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@Neil G: one could even use both! —but that might give it somewhat of an Austenesque character. –  PLL Mar 19 '11 at 22:21
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@Neil G: I could see it either way, depending on mood. It's a matter of style, not science. –  Robusto Mar 19 '11 at 22:39
    
@Robusto Or ellipses, if that's how one rolled. –  Dave Newton Sep 11 '12 at 20:12

In these cases, "and" and "but" are grammatically the same. Their purpose is to conjoin two clauses or sentences.

"And" as a conjunction usually communicates that the following clause will agree and perhaps expand the previous one.

I like pickles, and I wish everybody liked pickles.

"But" connotes some contrast or unexpected idea.

I like pickles, but I don't love them.

Stylistically, it is not usually considered good practice to begin sentences with a conjunction because a sentence that would begin with "and" or "but" generally connects well enough with the previous sentence that it should connect to it rather than becoming its independent sentence.

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But not ever starting a sentence with a conjunction removes one arrow from your quiver.

I quote (from http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conjunctions.htm):

There is a persistent belief that it is improper to begin a sentence with And, but this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. An initial And is a useful aid to writers as the narrative continues. -- from The New Fowler's Modern English Usage edited by R.W. Burchfield. Clarendon Press: Oxford, England. 1996.

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As a writer, I use "And" at the beginning of sentences in novels. I take (what I consider) this poetic license typically to emphasize a thought in a narrative or to more closely mimic informal speech. As we audibly converse, we often pause and continue our thoughts with "and." The more authentically natural speech is, whether grammatically correct or not, the better narratives flow.

Examples:

To emphasize a thought in a narrative:

I learned long ago to take life as it comes. And be patient.

Versus

I learned long ago to take life as it comes and be patient.

Separating the thoughts renders them more pronounced as it allows the reader to digest the thoughts separately. The reader might interpret taking life as it comes as accepting what life brings, or making lemonade out of lemons. The reader might interpret and be patient as contentment or simply, having patience. Such depth of meaning may be overlooked when the sentence is simply combined using "and."

To more closely mimic informal speech:

I learned long ago to take life as it comes. (speaker thinking). And be patient.

For the record, I do not typically begin formal sentences with "And."

... just my thoughts.

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I would offer an expansion on those answers concluding that it is not forbidden to start a sentence with "And." The examples thus far are all short sentences which are arguably suited to merging into a single sentence per Chris Browne, excepting the strong emphasis example offered by Sunshine.

My own frequent usage of "And" is associated with two contexts. The first is long sentences that do not easily bear further continuation, yet which are incomplete in their intended task. They require a further thought that, though necessarily connected, is sufficiently different to sensibly permit a new sentence. The "And" makes the connection of the two thoughts less burdensome than would be the case if all were combined into one sentence, however grammatically correct.

The second context is in speeches I write for politicians and business people. While there is obviously a distinction between what is fit for spoken versus written English, the gap need not be large between formal speeches and the written form. And so I say speeches should be written with a mind to being read more frequently than ever they will be spoken.

Now the "And" that starts the previous sentence can be seen as completely superfluous. A sharper writer would omit the entire entrance "And so I say," to achieve that vaunted goal of using the fewest words possible. But I do not acknowledge a linguistic famine that mandates such strict rationing.

I pose no defense against a charge of bad style. To me it is pleasing. And to my clients it has been effective. Or so it would seem by the fact that they return to the source of this bad style.

I can write compactly. I do, as required.

But, when the opportunity presents itself, I luxuriate in languid, listless, indulgent sentences, that succeed in communicating meaning, not for the miserly sake of communicating meaning, but to the more generous end of letting the language dance. And that can take the form of using conjunctions as instruments of pacing, or of bridges over which the waltz can move from one thought to the next.

This is what for me separates language as work from language as recreation.

I can do the work. But I want to play.

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I was taught not to begin a sentence with a conjunction and continue to hold to this rule. It's more stylistic than grammatical but I'd suggest that breaking a subclause of a sentence into an entirely new sentence is poor style. Sentence structure follows a set of rules that are supposed to improve readability and flow. Compare:

I went to the shops and bought some bread.

I went to the shops. And I bought some bread.

Clearly, in this example, the former would be preferred. However, there are many examples of sentences where the sentence would become cumbersome if you tried to avoid the rule for the sake of avoiding the rule.

In conclusion; no grammatical rule should ever be applied for the sake of anything but readability, flow or style. If you're applying rules for the sake of rules then you're doing it wrong.

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