Can “And” or “But” Start a Sentence?

Summary

It’s grammatically fine to start a sentence with and, but, or any other coordinating conjunction. Do this when you want to emphasize the connection between two sentences.

Examples
  • Diagnostic tests are now chargeable. Local hospitals have lost their funding. Community programs are ending. And the mobile app used to track appointments no longer works.
  • The government is under pressure to provide fuel subsidies and tax breaks to businesses. But public health is as important as the price of fuel.
  • You can pay by credit/debit card, e-wallet, prepaid card, or wire transfer. Or you can simply send us cash in an envelope.

In creative writing, the pause indicated by a period before and or but can lead up to a twist or a punch line and make a sentence more forceful and urgent.

Examples
  • Louis writes; Susan writes; Neville writes; Jinny writes; even Bernard has now begun to write. But I cannot write. I see only figures. The others are handing in their answers, one by one. Now it is my turn. But I have no answer.
    — Virginia Woolf, The Waves (1931)
  • The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records, . . . the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it.
    — George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

Don’t overuse conjunctions: not every sentence needs to start with and or but. And always make sure to use the right conjunction for the job.

And or but at start of sentence

It’s grammatically fine to start a sentence with and, but, or any other coordinating conjunction like or, yet, and so. Such words emphasize the connection between one sentence and another.

Examples
  • Lulu wakes up at five in the morning. She goes to school. She has a part-time job. And she volunteers at her local animal shelter.
  • This used to be a busy street full of shops and restaurants buzzing from morning to night. But the businesses are all now shuttered and silent.
  • Scientists have now established that cats are intelligent beings. They understand words. They can read facial expressions. And they can teleport to parallel dimensions. But they still cannot resist the urge to poke their heads into a vase.

Coordinating conjunctions like and and but connect words, phrases, clauses, or sentences of equal status.

Examples
  • earth and sky
  • yellow lemons or green oranges
  • Maya wants to go for a walk, but the city is under lockdown.

When a coordinating conjunction connects two sentences, it appears at the start of a sentence.

Example
  • What Maya needed was to go for a walk in the park. But the city was under lockdown, and all she could do was look out the window.

A conjunction like and or but can also effectively link the first sentence of a paragraph to the last one of a previous paragraph.

Example
  •  . . . were unable to trace the source of the radiation.

    But recent advances in astrophysics have revealed that . . . 

Starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is a useful way to highlight the link between sentences. In this article, we discuss when it is appropriate to start a sentence with a conjunction like and or but, and what to keep in mind to use these conjunctions correctly.

Emphasis

Use words like and, but, and so at the start of a sentence only if you want to emphasize them.

Examples
  • I could cook a healthy meal, eat it, wash the dishes, and then work out. Or I could just stay in bed.
  • It was an expensive restaurant, the kind where you dine rather than eat. We dutifully dined on six courses, accepting all the server’s suggestions. And then we realized we had no money.
  • Farley drove at 70 mph all the way to the station, ignoring furious drivers, angry pedestrians, and startled pigeons. But he still missed his train.
  • One morning Maya woke up to the realization that there were other ways to live. So she did the sensible thing and packed her bags for Fiji.

The period before the conjunction denotes a pause, which makes the next sentence more forceful. In creative writing, this can help create drama within a narrative. Compare this with sentences where the conjunction appears in the middle rather than at the start. Using a comma instead of a period warns the reader that there’s more to come, gently introducing the next thought, taking away the element of surprise.

Examples
  • I could cook a healthy meal, eat it, wash the dishes, and then work out, or I could just stay in bed.
  • We dutifully dined on six courses, accepting all the server’s suggestions, and then realized we had no money.
  • Farley drove at 70 mph all the way to the station, ignoring furious drivers, angry pedestrians, and startled pigeons, but he still missed his train.
  • One morning Maya woke up to the realization that there were other ways to live, so she did the sensible thing and packed her bags for Fiji.

Not all sentences need to start with a conjunction. A coordinating conjunction (like and, but, so, and nor) is usually perfectly fine appearing within a sentence.

Example
  • Poor: It wasn’t raining. But Poco carried an umbrella along to the park.
    The information that someone carried an umbrella to a park is not impactful enough to deserve a sentence-initial but.
    Better: It wasn’t raining, but Poco carried an umbrella along to the park.

But if what you’re saying does deserve a sentence-final pause before it is said, use a period and then the conjunction.

Example
  • When you’re sad, you are asked to remind yourself of all the millions of people less fortunate than you. But why would that make you feel better?

Such usage can lend a dramatic tone to text. This is why and and but are not often used to start sentences in academic and other formal writing.

Formality

In academic and business writing, which requires a more objective and less dramatic tone, writers are advised to avoid starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions like and and so. In a thesis or a statement of purpose, for example, most editors will replace a coordinating conjunction at the start of a sentence with transition words like however, furthermore, therefore, and nevertheless, also called conjunctive adverbs. (A conjunctive adverb connects two clauses or sentences, much like a conjunction.)

Examples
  • Less formal: Our sensors failed on the third day of the experiment. And all our data was lost in a hard disk crash.
    More formal: Our sensors failed on the third day of the experiment. Furthermore, all our data was lost in a hard disk crash.
  • Less formal: Our study did not yield conclusive results. But we believe our paper should be published since it includes data collected from a wide range of sources.
    More formal: Our study did not yield conclusive results. Nevertheless, we believe our paper should be published since it includes data collected from a wide range of sources.
  • Less formal: After eight years of research, our study did not yield conclusive results. So we decided to abandon science altogether and become rock musicians.
    More formal: After eight years of research, our study did not yield conclusive results. Therefore, we decided to abandon science altogether and become rock musicians.

Choice of conjunction

It’s fine to start a sentence with a conjunction like and or but, but make sure you use the right one for the job. Every conjunction expresses a specific logical relation. Check that the conjunction you use at the start of a sentence links back meaningfully to the previous sentence.

Examples
  • Incorrect: We did everything we could to save the tree. And it was too late: the roots were already dead.
    Correct: We did everything we could to save the tree. But it was too late: the roots were already dead.
  • Incorrect: Anita gave up on the algorithm altogether. She tried not to even think about it. But then one morning, the answer just came to her.
    Correct: Anita gave up on the algorithm altogether. She tried not to even think about it. And then one morning, the answer just came to her.
  • Incorrect: We all know that people lie. So when we read something in a news article or a blog, we think that since it has been written down, it must be true.
    Correct: We all know that people lie. Yet when we read something in a news article or a blog, we think that since it has been written down, it must be true.

As you can see, words like and, but, and so are susceptible to misuse. When you start a sentence with a conjunction, check that your choice of word is correct.

Tip

Don’t use but if no contrast is implied.

Example
  • Incorrect: Farley set up the experiment and went to bed. But by morning, all the cells were dead.
    Some information is missing here. Don’t use but unless the contrast is clear.
    Correct: Farley set up the experiment exactly as he was supposed to. But by morning, all the cells were dead.

Overuse and misuse

Don’t use a conjunction like and or but between two sentences unless you need to emphasize the link between them. Sentences logically presented one after another are automatically connected in the reader’s mind. Starting a sentence with a conjunction makes this connection more urgent and forceful.

Example
  • Incorrect: Maya has always wanted to travel. And she has dreamed of nothing else since she was young. But something kept getting in the way. So sometimes it was a job; other times, family. And she just never found the time to do the things she wanted. So she thought her life had slipped away from her. But then one morning, she woke up and realized it’s never too late. So she has booked herself a one-way ticket for a holiday in Fiji. And she has no specific plans, no itinerary, and no idea where she’ll go from there. But she can’t wait to find out.
  • Correct: Maya has always wanted to travel. She has dreamed of nothing else since she was young, but something kept getting in the way. Sometimes it was a job; other times, family. She just never found the time to do the things she wanted. She thought her life had slipped away from her. Then one morning, she woke up and realized it’s never too late. She has booked herself a one-way ticket for a holiday in Fiji. She has no specific plans, no itinerary, and no idea where she’ll go from there. But she can’t wait to find out.

Teachers discourage students from using coordinating conjunctions at the start of a sentence because such words are easily overused or misused. But you don’t have to avoid starting sentences with and or but; just make sure to use a conjunction only when it’s needed.

Examples
  • I would watch this movie a hundred times over. And then I’d watch it once more.
  • The campaign’s PR machinery swung into gear: discrediting journalists, uploading propaganda, writing articles, trolling posts on social media. But the cat was out of the bag, and no amount of pretending there was no cat would put it back in.
Tip

Don’t place a comma after a conjunction (unless before a parenthetical element).

Example
  • Incorrect: I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me. But, the time for words had passed.
    Correct: I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me. But the time for words had passed.

Examples from literature

Writers start sentences with conjunctions like and and but when they want to clearly show the link with the previous sentence or add an element of drama, surprise, or urgency to their prose.

Examples
  • All through it, I have known myself to be quite undeserving. And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire.
    Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
  • The flower bloomed and faded. The sun rose and sank. The lover loved and went. And what the poets said in rhyme, the young translated into practice.
    Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928)
  • He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time.
    William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (1930)
  • Literature and history, these two great branches of human learning, records of human behaviour, human thought, are less and less valued by the young, and by educators, too. Yet from them one may learn how to be a citizen and a human being.
    Doris Lessing, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside (1986)
  • Don’t misunderstand me. I am not scoffing at goodness, which is far more difficult to explain than evil, and far more complicated. But sometimes it’s hard to put up with.
    Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (2000)
  • Some kinds of order were too vast for a human to know. But below the chaos of a single human life, you could trust that a cosmic breve was sounding.
    Kate Grenville, The Lieutenant (2008)

In academic and other formal usage as well, starting sentences with and and but is an acceptable way to link ideas. Here are a couple of examples from an editorial in Nature.

Examples
  • REACT-1, a long-running random-testing study, will lose its government funding at the end of this month. And ZOE, a mobile app that residents can use to log their COVID-19 symptoms, has lost its public funding, too.
  • Of course, national budgets are being stretched thin. . . . But scaling back virus surveillance at this time is short-sighted.
    — “This is no time to stop tracking COVID-19,” Nature (March 23, 2022)

Other conjunctions at start of sentence

Other conjunctions like because and since can also be used to start a sentence. While and, but, and or are coordinating conjunctions, because, since, although, whereas, etc. are subordinating conjunctions, which make one clause dependent on another for meaning. A sentence might start with because, for example, so that the main clause can gain end focus in the sentence.

Examples
  • Because you asked me to, I added more sugar.
  • Although cucumbers are used as vegetables, they are botanically fruit.
  • Since you are already here, why don’t you talk to her yourself?

Quick Quiz

Is it OK to start a sentence with and or but?
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Which is correct?
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Which is punctuated correctly?
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Which is better style?
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Which tone is more appropriate for an academic thesis?
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Did You Know?

The serial comma is usually optional.
Know more:Serial or Oxford Comma: When Is It Used?