Are these sentences correct in terms of punctuation and grammar?

She asked, "Could I have a drink of your water?" Then she walked away when I said, "No, you can't."

Thanks so much for the first three responses, but I guess I should have continued by telling you that this is part of a transcription, so I can't change the order of the words. Given that information, is 'Then' best capitalized and starting its own sentence, or would you leave it lowercase as a continuation of the prior sentence?

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Yes, you can start a sentence with then. However, the clause that begins with then should go last:

She asked, "Could I have a drink of your water?" I said, "No, you can't." Then she walked away.

Then indicates a consequence or a result, which is why it should go at the end of any group of sentences that describe actions that create that consequence.

Think of then as a result of if, where if always comes first:

If she may not have a drink of your water, then she will walk away.

  • I would count as grammatical a phrasing like *Then, when I said "No, you can't," she walked away - which I suppose is just an embedding of your second sentence into your third, and thus still follows your rule. – Matt Gutting Mar 31 '15 at 16:43
  • I wish I could rephrase, but it's part of a transcription job. :( – gnmorr Mar 31 '15 at 18:03
  • 1
    I have to disagree that the "then" clause must be last as you describe. Certainly it's common to say something along the lines of "Then, when I said 'No,' she walked away." And I think the original suggestion is well within the range of acceptability for "normal" English. – Hot Licks Mar 31 '15 at 21:30
  • I see your point, but in the original suggestion, the word "then" is not really necessary. Since it is there, it is describing the result of saying "No, you can't," but it is describing the result before it tells you what triggered it. If you put the result at the end, I believe it flows better. But since @gnmorr is transcribing something, it doesn't matter too much! :) – Snapman Mar 31 '15 at 22:30

He read the letter and began to cry. His huge old saltwater aquarium burst.Then the room was flooded with saltwater.


He read the letter and began to cry. Then the room was flooded with saltwater.

His huge old saltwater aquarium had burst.

There is a rhyme and reason to where and when "then" appears. The second example is clearly superior because "then" is placed "incorrectly". In the second example the placement of "then" gives us the impression that the room was flooded with tears, before we are told the more mundane cause. In the first example, the flooding clearly follows, and is a consequence of, the bursting aquarium. This is much drier.

My point is that grammar is meant to serve the story, to make things more clear (or deliberately ambiguous), to create tension and release. If you keep your eyes on the prize, so to speak, you will make fewer errors without having to memorize rules, and the errors you do make will be different in kind than the errors of sloppy writing.

  • LOL trust me, it's not MY sloppy writing. It's part of a transcription assignment! I can't rephrase, I can only punctuate. – gnmorr Mar 31 '15 at 18:03
  • Sorry, I was speaking in general, not accusing you of being a sloppy writer! – bobro Mar 31 '15 at 18:08
  • No worries. It horrified me as well! – gnmorr Mar 31 '15 at 18:47

I would rephrase it entirely and say:

When I said, "No, you can't," she walked away.

That sounds better in my humble opinion. You could add an adverb before 'walked' to make the sentence more interesting.

  • I hear you, but I can't rephrase. It's part of a transcription assignment. – gnmorr Mar 31 '15 at 18:02

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