For a while, using but to start a sentence was largely frowned upon. But, I think it is possible to use but at the beginning of a sentence, as long as it isn't overused.

Am I right?


5 Answers 5


But for conditional usage, I would still tend to frown upon it. But, used sparingly, it can be effective in emphasizing the thought or action behind the "but".

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    But then again it could just be used just for the sake of it. Nov 20, 2011 at 23:11
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    This answer is meta.
    – Frantisek
    Nov 20, 2011 at 23:26
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    In the first sentence, "but" is a synonym for "except". Nov 21, 2011 at 1:30
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    @Karl: But that doesn't invalidate the usage. Nov 21, 2011 at 16:36
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    Please note that the word 'But' in the answer is used in two different meanings in the first sentence and in the second one. c.f. books.google.co.il/…
    – Nir Levy
    Oct 16, 2012 at 8:12

It is not ‘grammatically incorrect’ and it is not restricted to informal writing. When but occurs at the beginning of a sentence it is not to be construed as a conjunction, but as a conjunct. Conjuncts are adverbs which, in the words of ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’,

. . . play a cohesive role between separate sentences, or clauses. They . . . express logical relationships such as addition, contrast and causation.

  • Could you please provide an example that illustrates its use as a conjunct?
    – Lynn
    Nov 21, 2011 at 16:52
  • @Lynn: Here’s one taken at random from ‘Europe: A History’, a magisterial academic work by the eminent historian Norman Davies: ‘Mozart thrived in the relaxed social climate of the 1780s, which the growth of the “opera buffa” reflected. He struck a neutral stance towards the morals of his day. But the Rake’s “Reward” is too melodramatic to be taken seriously . . .’ Here’s another: ‘Germany was indeed obliged to assist its Austrian ally, if Austria had been attacked. But Austria had not been attacked . . .’ Nov 21, 2011 at 17:22
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    Correct. The standard injunction to avoid using conjunctions (or conjuncts) at the beginning of a sentence was predicated on the assumption that such sentences tended to be fragments. In fact, as this matter has subsequently been reviewed over the past 60 years or so, the concern has been found to be wholly unwarranted. The so-called "rule" is a shibboleth and can be ignored as being an exemplar of Ted Bernstein's "Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblins."
    – The Raven
    Nov 21, 2011 at 19:16
  • Maybe off the topic at hand: This indirectly suggests to new writers that one way would be to mechanically replace all such instances of initial 'But' with 'However,' -- does that resolve the issue? (As I said, this may be a separate question.)
    – Kris
    Oct 16, 2012 at 4:57
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    @Kris: I see absolutely no need to do so, and, in any case, however may not always be a suitable alternative. Oct 16, 2012 at 6:36

I used to think it wrong to start a sentence with But. My English teacher told us not to say or write that way, though he admitted that in reality many did use that way.

I am very familiar with Longman Contemporary English Dictionary. In it, four parts of speech are given if we search for but. They are conjunction, preposition, adverb and noun. Yet when we want to start a sentence with but, we use its conjunction meaning. That is grammatically incorrect.

Barrie England wrote it was a conjunct (adverb) and referred to The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. If so, that well explains.

However, I see such usage is not in many dictionaries. That means it is not universally accepted. As a non-native English user, I will avoid using it this way.

  • It's reclassified by many now as either a 'conjunct' (CGEU) or a 'pragmatic marker subclasses sentence connector; contrast marker'. Believe it or not, sentence connectors usually occur at the start of sentences. Jan 19, 2015 at 12:13

In a narrative I can see no reason not to use it, however it is still wrong in most aspects of written English.

Seeing a 'but' at the start of a sentence would make me want to see what on earth had come before...

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    Which shows you jumped over there.
    – Kris
    Oct 16, 2012 at 4:53

Of course you can use "but" at the beginning of a sentence. The supposed rule against this practice is an urban myth. I used to offer my college students $100 in cash if they could find this "rule" in a reputable grammar book. Nobody ever collected the money! What's more - all the grammar books feature sentences starting with "but." To read more: http://wp.me/PU98s-2B


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