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When I was a kid, I was always told that starting a sentence off with "and" was improper. However, now it seems as if the consensus amongst members of the English cartel is that it is totally acceptable with one addendum, "you must always follow the conjunction with a comma."

My girlfriend just started a sentence with "and" and she didn't use a comma. Was she wrong? Could someone elucidate on "and", and conjunctions at the start of a sentence, and subsequent commas? Here is the exact context,

Did you see those people giving us the finger? And the counter protest?

Should that and have been followed by a comma?

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possible duplicate of Is it really incorrect to start a sentence with "and"? –  tchrist Nov 18 '12 at 4:29
@tchrist the word comma doesn't appear at all in the supposed "dupe" and it is prime to my question. –  Evan Carroll Nov 18 '12 at 18:42

5 Answers 5

  1. It's perfectly OK to begin a sentence with a conjunction. Just don't do it over. And over. And over. (Except for rhetorical or narrative effect. Or in translating the Hebrew Bible.)
  2. Never put a comma after a conjunction: a comma is a “disjunction”, and defeats the purpose of the conjunction. I grant that you will find some authorities conceding that the first of a pair of commas enclosing a parenthetical phrase may follow a conjuction immediately. Formally, they're correct; but if the phrase is brief the comma-pair is unnecessary, and, because if the phrase is long it tends to blur the reader's sense of your syntax, it's bad practice to put it immediately after the conjunction.

I have seen a general increase in the frequency of this CONJ+comma construction over the last ten years, largely in business writing. I suspect there are two causes:

  1. Residual discomfort with violating the “rule” against starting a sentence with a conjunction — people who are insecure are more likely to grasp at a misuse as a solution. It's a sort of hypercorrection.
  2. An effort to achieve a colloquial emphasis on the conjunction — the comma isolates the conjunction and reproduces the pause in speech. In cases where this is aimed at, I suggest using a colon instead of a comma; the colon is fundamentally conjunctive. And the rarity of the device serves to isolate and emphasize the conjunction.

    I honor these users' attempts to write more colloquially. But: I deprecate the awkward means they employ.

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This reminds me of polysyndeton and symploce. –  tchrist Nov 18 '12 at 18:56
+1, but nitpicking: The Hebrew Bible doesn't actually start all those verses with "and". I don't know how much you know about Hebrew, but the letter that means "and" (ו) is also used in Biblical Hebrew to flip the tense from future to past, and then it does not mean "and". Without the ו, all those words would be in future tense. The translation as "and" is a misconception by people who haven't studied Biblical Hebrew. So, not "and he said", but rather "he said". –  Scimonster Mar 8 at 19:41
@Scimonster I'm aware of that; in fact I had occasion to point that out to a user on another SE site just today! I was alluding here to the English 'Authorized Version' of the Bible (both the Hebrew and Greek anthologies), which translates the wa- conjugations with 'and'. The Blake quotation in pjc50's answer above illustrates the enduring influence of that translation. –  StoneyB Mar 8 at 20:18
"Never" is taking it too far. Just don't do it unless there is another reason to do so, like an opening prepositional phrase or subordinate clause. For example: "And, although I thought she was pretty, I was not attracted to her." Or "But, in some cases, conjunctions are followed by commas." –  trlkly Mar 10 at 1:16
@trikly I covered that: that bracketed phrase is short enough you can omit the brackets. –  StoneyB Mar 10 at 1:47

To answer your question about the comma: No, there shouldn't be a comma after the "and". Unless it's something like this: Did you see those people giving us the finger? And, right after that, the counter protest? The right after that phrase has optional commas offsetting it. It might have been said with two noticeable pauses, which would ask for commas, or without pauses, which would make the commas wrong for the dialog but not ungrammatical.

I don't know when you were a kid, but I was a kid in the 1950s and learned the same thing: Never start a sentence with "and", "but", or "or". This is still a good rule of thumb for formal written English: dissertations and articles to be published in academic journals. However, very few native speakers pay attention to it any more. I surely don't. And why should I? When I write informal prose, I want it to sound much more like speech than like a learned treatise. Writing like you speak has certain advantages and disadvantages.

I think that the addendum about adding the comma after the conjunction is apocryphal. I've never heard about it from my fellow cartelliards. Most members of the English Cartel (be careful about making sure that "C" is a majuscule and not a minuscule or one of our operatives will be around to cut your left little finger off). But back to the topic.

All writing rules are merely suggestions unless you're forced to use a style manual by your publisher, whether that be a journal or book or newspaper publisher, a high school or university teacher, or some other institution. Grammaticality is not necessarily the hallmark of good writing, and it's not sufficient to ensure good writing.

Bill Withers: Ain't No Sunshine

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
It's not warm when she's away.
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
And she's always gone too long
Anytime she goes away.

Wonder this time where she's gone
Wonder if she's gone to stay
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
And this house just ain't no home
Anytime she goes away.

And I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know

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Conjunctions join two thoughts; why do those two thoughts have to be in the same sentence or question? Grammar school teachers, reading essay after essay written at the sixth-grade level, probably see so many misuses of sentences starting with and or but that they drill that "rule" into our heads, never bothering to mention that literature and journalism is replete with exceptions penned by writers with sufficient expertise and discernment to know when the leading conjunction shouldn't be omitted or absorbed by the previous sentence. But I digress. –  J.R. Nov 18 '12 at 5:16
@J.R.: Very often those two thoughts are totally non sequitur: "She had curly brown hair and her brother won a gold medal for swimming". Unless this is an answer to "What do you know about her?", these two thoughts don't belong together. What I often find in my biomed papers is the wrong conjunction: "She had curly brown hair, whereas her brother won a gold medal for swimming". I know, not biomed content, but you get the point, I'm sure. –  user21497 Nov 18 '12 at 5:32
Using 'non sequitur' as an adjective!? If that's legit, it involves one of an exceedingly small number of open compound adjectives. –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 18 '12 at 22:46
But of course, you're right about conjunctions only properly joining two reasonably connected thoughts. As is J.R. (I've even given him/her his/her full stops!) when they say that there is quite a skill in deciding how to sentence. –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 18 '12 at 22:50
@Edwin: Found this: "NO HYPHEN IS NEEDED with compound words or adjectives that are open (two words written as one unit with no hyphen) or with when there is no ambiguity. Examples of open compound words: truck stop, uneven bars, full moon, fruit fly, and fishing net." I'd add ad hoc, a priori, etc. –  user21497 Nov 19 '12 at 0:51

Kids have a tendency to write as if everything was connected. Leaving them to their own devices leads to paragraphs with most sentences starting with "And". Hence teachers have a blanket rule to stamp out this unruly behaviour. It's OK to start sentences with conjunctions once you've grown up, because by then you'll have become a responsible writer. Well, you'll be legal to drink alcohol, so you might as well have full responsibility for conjunctions.

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+1 for the analogy. Wouldn't it be better just to legalize conjunctions? ;) –  δοῦλος Mar 9 at 16:56

A great example of starting not just a sentence, but several, and the poem as a whole, is provided by William Blake:

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

The comma after "and" is to me quite rare. It tends not to help the flow of text. Mostly I'd use it to mark the "and" out on its own for emphasis.

They overcharged me! And, I didn't even get any bread!

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"And the counter-protest?" is a sentence fragment. I'm more concerned about that than the whereabouts of this hypothetical comma.

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Hi Shera, As it stands, your answer is more suitable as a comment than an answer. Please give more details that directly address the question. –  nxx Feb 27 '14 at 23:04
You will have to define sentence fragment. And oppose it to a sentence with ellipsises in it. –  δοῦλος Mar 9 at 16:58

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