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Is it considered good form to use the word already at the beginning of a sentence? For instance:

Already in 1930, certain people were watching television in their homes.

I have seen it used in many history books and even in a speech by President Obama, but a friend of mine who is an excellent writer and one of the most prolific Wikipedia editors said that it was not good practice to use it like that.

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It's hard to say who is right or wrong, to my point of view. Your writer friend is certainly not wrong; however, since grammar and usage are not static but evolving slowly, that "already in xx" leads a sentence shouldn't be bad at all as long as it is often the case in articles, proses, and speeches by known writers and speakers. If there is a full-fledged force of a new usage of a word/phrase, the usage should be well-accepted. – braids Mar 7 '12 at 14:56
up vote 6 down vote accepted

This sounds like a personal preference rather than anything to do with the way English is actually used. It was good enough for such talented writers as Robert Louis Stevenson:

Already in our society . . . the bourgeois is too much cottoned about for any zest in living.

and Betrand Russell:

Already in December 1676 Leibniz held that not all possibles exist.

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I think this is the right answer. Alongside Jay's point about how using it at the beginning of a sentence doesn't create any ambiguity, and is grammatically fine. – MikeVaughan Mar 7 '12 at 17:22

I don't see a problem with it. I suppose your friend would say that the sentence should be written, "People were already watching television in their homes in 1930." But we often vary word order for emphasis. I don't see how putting "already" at the beginning creates any ambiguity.

In some ways this resembles a dangling modifier. Like, "Showing signs of drunkenness, the bartender refused to serve Fred." It's amusing because the structure of the sentence indicates that it is the bartender who was drunk rather than Fred. You need to be careful about re-arranging a sentence in ways that create such an ambiguity or flatly incorrect association.

But in your example, I don't see a problem.

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I think the problem with your example sentence is not that "Already" is on the beginning, rather that it is followed by "in". You could emphasize 1930 like this instead:

Even in 1930 certain people were already watching television in their homes.

Also note already is mostly used somewhere after the verb, like here.

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