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I know it's wrong, but I do it all the time or else my sentences would go on forever.

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Perhaps post an example of one of your long sentences? –  jeffamaphone Aug 12 '10 at 23:44
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What makes you so sure that it's wrong? –  Vincent McNabb Aug 13 '10 at 4:35
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I think it's wrong because it's one of those "rules" I learned in school (maybe even college . . . yeah, I went there too!) but like lots of things I learn, maybe I learned it wrong. –  tooshel Aug 13 '10 at 8:24
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I promise not to make fun of you. The point of the site is to help people write better. We'll gladly help you improve your sentences. –  jeffamaphone Aug 13 '10 at 17:52
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Naïvely inserting periods in a very long sentence is only a solution if the problem was "number of letters between periods". You should be rewriting very long sentences to solve the actual problem with them, which is more about organization and comprehension. –  tenfour Aug 24 '11 at 11:35
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5 Answers

up vote 35 down vote accepted

What makes you think this is an error? All the greatest writers of English have started sentences with and. Mark Liberman, linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania wrote about this mythical “rule” in Language Log in 2005:

There is nothing in the grammar of the English language to support a prescription against starting a sentence with and or but—nothing in the norms of speaking and nothing in the usage of the best writers over the entire history of the literary language. Like all languages, English is full of mechanisms to promote coherence by linking a sentence with its discourse context, and on any sensible evaluation, this is a Good Thing. Whoever invented the rule against sentence-intitial and and but, with its a preposterous justification in terms of an alleged defect in sentential “completeness”, must have had a tin ear and a dull mind.

So, my answer to OP’s original question is “mu”: your question assumes something which is false.

Edit:

The rule forbidding conjunctions at the beginning of sentences—“No Initial Coordinators” (NIC)—is something that even the most prickly old usage writers have rejected as Not A Real Rule. Arnold Zwicky wrote on Language Log in 2006 (emphasis added):

Mark notes that the AHD [American Heritage Dictionary] note for and rejects NIC out of hand, and he provides a smorgasbord of cites (and statistics) from reputable authors. Similarly MWDEU [Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage]. Paul Brians, collector of common errors in English, labels sentence-initial coordinators a "non-error". Bryan Garner denies, all over the place, that NIC has any validity. Even the curmudgeonly Robert Hartwell Fiske tells his readers that there's absolutely nothing wrong with sentence-initial coordinators. A point of usage and style on which Liberman and I and the AHD and the MWDEU stand together with Brians and Garner and Fiske (and dozens of other advice writers) is, truly, not a disputed point. NIC is crap (emphasis added).

But still it lives on, as what I've called a zombie rule. It's been lurking in the grammatical shadows for some time -- at least a hundred years, to judge from MWDEU. Hardly any usage manual subscribes to it, but it is, apparently, widely taught in schools, at least in the U.S., with the result that educated people tend to be nagged by a feeling that there is something bad about sentence-initial and (and but and so).

And Mark Liberman wrote more recently on Language Log:

A participant using the name pointytilly links to Paul Brians' list of "non-errors" in defense of the view that sentence-initial and and but are "grammatically correct". And indeed they are, according to essentially everyone with any plausible claim to expertise, prescriptivists and descriptivists alike.

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@Shinto Sherlock, well, you could start with the copious examples in the Language Log link in my answer. –  nohat Aug 13 '10 at 3:17
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I made a claim, and the link I included in the answer has evidence for the claim… –  nohat Aug 13 '10 at 4:38
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@Shinto - No one here has proven the opposite! And saying that one cannot start a sentence with "and" is the much more dubious claim. From the American Heritage Dictionary: "It is frequently asserted that sentences beginning with and or but express “incomplete thoughts” and are therefore incorrect. But this rule has been ridiculed by grammarians for decades, and the stricture has been ignored by writers from Shakespeare to Joyce Carol Oates." And Nohat did indeed provide a link which proves his point. –  Vincent McNabb Aug 13 '10 at 4:41
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@Vincent: the dubious claim I am referring to is that "All the greatest writers of English have started sentences with and". In order to prove this you would need to create an indisputable list of all the greatest writers and then find examples for each one. Good luck with that. Note that since it's not my claim and it is obviously a dubious one, there is no chance of me wasting time rooting up evidence to try to prove it. If you make a statement, you back it up, don't waste my time telling me that I have to back up your nonsense. –  delete Aug 13 '10 at 5:18
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@Shinto Sherlock you don’t have to believe anything I write here. That’s why I include links in my answers, which contain evidence and support for my claims. If you (a) don’t believe my claims and (b) are unwilling to read the contents of my references, I don’t think there is anything else I can do to help you. –  nohat Aug 29 '10 at 2:37
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I'll admit to possibly having been an accomplice in the perpetuation of this Zombie Rule. When I taught writing to third grade students I did use the NIC proscription [I believe I can use this construction to mean the rule that proscribed IC.] I did so because without it a large percentage of my students would consistently compose paragraphs such as this:

Yesterday my dad came home from work. And we went to the pet store. And we got a new dog. And he is black. And he's got white spots. And his name is Spike. And he's really cool. And I love him. And my mom loves him too. And so does my dad.

You can imagine the type of paragraph in which "but" is used similarly. Because such a large number of skills must be taught to students at this stage of writing development, it was more expedient to tell them to avoid the initial coordinator construction.

As students developed more advanced writing skills, some intuitively developed the ability to appropriately use initial coordinators and were given permission to do so in assignments, and some others needed to be taught this skill and to be given permission.

To be clear, the rule was that in writing assignments in this class you may not use initial coordinators unless and until you have mastered a number of other basic skills and have progressed to a certain level determined by me, your teacher.

However, I must admit that I'm sure there were many students of mine who left third grade with the idea that NIC is a hard and fast grammar law. If I were to teach third grade writing again I might try harder to disabuse them of this notion.

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Welcome, Sarah. You might like to take a look at the related question on 'but' at english.stackexchange.com/questions/48974/can-i-use-but-yet/…. –  Barrie England Nov 21 '11 at 11:37
    
Thanks, Barrie, for the welcome and the useful info on conjuncts. –  sarah Nov 22 '11 at 6:24
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I would say it is one of those errors that is coming more into accepted use, especially in e-mails, but since most people continue to consider it an error, you are best off avoiding it.

And In addition, it is easy to correct, you can almost always replace it with a more formal term, or just omit it, e.g:

And, we hope to see you at the party on Tuesday!

could become:

We hope to see you at the party on Tuesday!

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"Furthermore", "moreover", "above all", "additionally", etc. The same goes for starting sentences with "but"; try to replace with "however", "nevertheless", "that said", "in contrast", etc. –  Paul Lammertsma Aug 13 '10 at 0:45
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Who are these "most people" that consider it an error? –  Vincent McNabb Aug 13 '10 at 4:45
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I think the belief that this is coming more into accepted use is an example of the recency illusion. People have been starting sentences with conjunctions for centuries. –  nohat Aug 29 '10 at 2:59
    
Your example only works when given without context. Consider: "We expect you will all show up for the regular meeting on Friday, where we must vote on the proposed policy change. And we hope to see you at the party on Tuesday!" Without the "and", the mention of the party is abrupt, and leaves the reader wondering if something has been left out in the middle. Yes, you could use a longer, more formal phrase, like, "In addition, we hope ..." or "On a lighter note, we hope ..." But why, other than to conform to an arbitrary rule? –  Jay Nov 1 '11 at 17:16
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In computer programming, the goto statement is semantically legal and logically meaningfully, however if you find yourself relying heavily on it, you probably need to refactor your code.

Similarly, There is nothing grammatically wrong starting a sentence with the word “and.” However, if you find yourself linking together long sentences with a string of “and”s, you probably want to rework your sentences to make what you're saying more clear.

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I'm wondering why this was voted down. I would have made the same point that even if the use of "and" is incorrect, the greater sin is excessively long sentences. And to those with a foot (or keyboard) in that world, the analogy is apt. –  mickeyf Oct 2 '10 at 2:17
    
Excessively long sentences do not need to be a sin if they are properly punctuated. –  oosterwal Feb 3 '11 at 0:20
    
@oosterwal But isn't excess tantamount to sin? I'd say if they are properly punctuated and otherwise understandable, they're not excessively long. –  sarah Dec 15 '11 at 9:44
    
Let me start this comment by saying my English education is limited to High School and the fact that I am a native (U.S.) English speaker. That being said, I think that High School teachers might be trying to avoid having their students break apart a sentence that really belongs together. "And" is a subordinating conjunction, so it is expected to bridge two thoughts together. If one sees "And there was a big mess to clean up.", then there is obviously something missing. "There was a big mess to clean up." is a sentence, but made subordinate by "And". +1 for goto reference! –  TecBrat May 18 '12 at 2:39
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It is rank superstition that this coordinating conjunction cannot properly begin a sentence.

That it is a soleicism to begin a sentence with and is a faintly lingering superstition. The OED gives examples ranging from the 10th to 19th c.; the Bible is full of them.
Ernst Gowers. MEU2 at 29.

A prejudice lingers from the days of school-marmish rhetoric that a sentence should not begin with and. The supposed rule is without foundation in grammar, logic or art. And can join separate sentences and their meanings just as well as but can both join sentences and disjoin meanings.
Wilson Follett, MAU at 64.

And the idea that and must not begin a sentence, or even a paragraph, is an empty superstition. The same goes for but. Indeed either word can give unimprovably early warning of the sort of thing that is to follow.
Kingsley Amis, The King's English 14 (1997).

Reference: A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, Garner.

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But I always wonder what sposta happen when you violate one of these zombie rules. Do you go blind? –  John Lawler Jul 2 '12 at 20:33
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No, @JohnLawler, it means you are condemned to be among the Great Unwashed. –  Colin Fine Jul 2 '12 at 20:40
    
Oh, no! Not that! –  John Lawler Jul 2 '12 at 22:14
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