Can you start a sentence with the word key?

The sentence is:

Key to good analytical research is a safe well-equipped laboratory.

I have a tendency to want to put The before key, but am uncertain whether this is necessary.

  • That is common, but I'll defer to the more learned ELU folks to tell you if it's correct.
    – TecBrat
    Mar 31, 2016 at 14:16
  • I don't think it's ungrammatical per se, but it reads super awkwardly. I'd definitely put the definite article before 'key'. If I felt a burning desire to omit it, I'd probably switch the clauses around: "A safe, well-equipped laboratory is key to conducting good analytical research." Mar 31, 2016 at 14:16
  • 1
    It's been a while since I was here but I'll be my usual self upon my return... You can start a sentence with whatever word you like.
    – Ste
    Mar 31, 2016 at 14:20
  • 1
    You can, in which case "key" is not a noun as in "the key ...", but an adjective, cf. vital/paramount to good analytical research .... All you're doing is inverting the subject and predicative complement. Uninverted it would read A safe well-equipped lab is key to good analytical research.
    – BillJ
    Mar 31, 2016 at 14:49

1 Answer 1


It's just a reversed sentence construction, which is allowed. On a separate note, the full sentence should look like this:

"Key to good analytical research is a safe, well equipped laboratory."

You need the comma between the two adjectives describing laboratory, and you don't need to hyphenate "well" and "equipped" because well is an adverb, and adverbs can actually stand alone when paired with an adjective.

  • This is very helpful. This has to be written in British English style and I have seen both used in this style before.
    – PaulD
    Mar 31, 2016 at 14:32
  • Oh, that might change things...
    – Nick
    Mar 31, 2016 at 14:38
  • Maybe you don't need to hyphenate well-equipped laboratory, but as that NGram shows, in practice most writers do. Digging deeper, it seems clear BrE writers are less inclined to bother with the hyphen, but even there it's still a minority usage (as yet - I think the trend points in that direction). Mar 31, 2016 at 15:09
  • In American English, you do need the hyphen. In British English, usage is split about 50-50. Mar 31, 2016 at 17:27
  • Really? Here's one source claiming you don't put a hyphen between an adverb and an adjective: link
    – Nick
    Mar 31, 2016 at 17:48

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.