This also came up on either a BBC or CBC science program, but not as a linguistically-oriented discussion.

Over the last two or three years I've noticed a lot more people starting a sentence with "so": "so when we take the ...", "so I have this ...", "so the basic idea ..." and (uh) so on.

What is "so" when a sentence begins with it? When did it start? Is it just a "pause" word (and is there a word for that)? Is it grammatically correct? Am I the only one that finds it annoying?

Edit: Much of its usage in scientific discussions is as a "therefore".

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    possible duplicate of What makes "like" and "so" popular? – Callithumpian Sep 26 '11 at 2:48
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    @Callithumpian: That's more about like as a hedge, not discourse markers. I'm a bit disappointed it doesn't even cover like as a quotative. – Jon Purdy Sep 26 '11 at 3:16
  • So, Wikipedia notes this dates back to the 1380s. – gerrit May 11 '16 at 11:51
  • This usage has become noticeably more common in U.S. public radio news and interview programs over the past two or three years. It is especially noticeable in a back-and-forth colloquy between, say, an NPR newsreader at station headquarters and the on-the-scene reporter: Newsreader: What can you tell us about X? Reporter: So, blah blah blah. Newsreader: Does that represent a change from Y? Reporter: So, bib blib blib. Newsreader: What do you think the outcome of Z will be? Reporter: So, blub blub blub. It is almost a verbal tic for some reporters to preface every statement with "So." – Sven Yargs Jun 13 '18 at 7:04
  • @SvenYargs Not just NPR-it's everywhere :( – Dave Newton Jun 13 '18 at 9:05

It's a discourse marker, like oh, well, now, and many others.

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  • Discourse marker, that's what I was looking for--thanks. – Dave Newton Sep 26 '11 at 12:25
  • That said, it seems appropriate usage would be in replacement of "for example", not "because of that". – Wolfpack'08 Jun 27 '14 at 23:43

So is supposed to be used in something like, "The grass is tall, so it will be mowed." The use expanded to "The grass is tall. So, it will be mowed."

Now, so is commonly used at the beginning of a sentence to mean "as a result" as it was traditionally used, but also with the same meaning as "uh," as an initial attention-getter. For example, "So, do you want to go get some lunch?"

It is also used sometimes in a discussion to "hold the floor," or keep one's side of the conversation going by making some noise between sentences. This is particularly common in public interviews.

So is sometimes used in the beginning of a sentence to connect the sentence with the previous sentence or paragraph, as a discourse marker. It may imply that the content of the sentence is there because of the previous idea, or it may just be there to keep up the rhythmic flow of the text.

So, I find it annoying, too.

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    I find it annoying, and I do it all the time. I have to go through my own prose, removing it. – slim Jan 20 '12 at 15:11
  • All of xpda's examples are instances of the use of so as different kinds of discourse markers, not just the sentence-connector usage. Swan's classification of discourse markers was good, but Fraser's Pragmatic Markers isearch.avg.com/pages/abt/hnav/… is monumental. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 17 '12 at 0:20

It's partly a regional usage: Seamus Heaney in the foreword to his translation of Beowulf says

Conventional renderings of hwæt, the first word of the poem, tend towards the archaic literary, with ‘lo’, ‘hark’, ‘behold’, ‘attend’ and – more colloquially – ‘listen’ being some of the solutions offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullion-speak, the particle ‘so’ came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom ‘so’ operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, ‘so’ it was:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

(full text here; http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/beowulf/introbeowulf.htm)

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"We spent all of our money at the concert. So we couldn't go out for dinner."

This is an example of how "so" should not be used to begin a sentence. It results in a sentence fragment, and is incorrect. The same rule holds true for "because".

"So, which movie would you prefer to watch?"

This sentence is okay because it is being used as a discourse marker, as other answers here have sufficiently explained.

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