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Training Bulletin Issue 58
But I like starting sentences with ‘but’
And another thing: should you start sentences with ‘and’? Or with ‘or’? Yes, with summer finally arriving, these are the sorts of things that occupy
my some people’s minds rather than pedicures and sun block.
While most of us can remember having been told at school not to start sentences with ‘but’, ‘and’ or ‘or’, what about ‘while’? After all, it is also a joining word. So is ‘so’ but lots of people start sentences with ‘so’ and only a determined pedant would object.
If you start sentences with joining words, will people think your writing is poor? I just did it again: ‘if’ is a joining word, so the last sentence should have been ‘Will people think your writing is poor if you start sentences with joining words?’ Did any of you even notice? More importantly, will your readers notice if you do it?
What the heck is a conjunction anyway?
Conjunctions are words that join parts of sentences, or even whole sentences, together. They are very common. They are very useful. They prevent your writing from sounding bitty. Like that.
There are different types of conjunctions. People are more likely to object to your starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions. They won’t worry so much if you do it with subordinating or correlative conjunctions.
All the terminology makes it sound much more complex than it actually is. You can impress people with your extensive grammatical knowledge more easily than you’d think if you can throw those words around confidently.
- Coordinating conjunctions are the words most people think of as joining words: and, but, or. Not everyone realises that yet, for, nor and so are also coordinating conjunctions.
These can join both words (Apples and pears are nice,) and sentences (I will call back tomorrow and you can let me know your comments.)
For more formal writing, you would best avoid starting sentences with any of the coordinating conjunctions. For casual writing, or if you want a relaxed tone, then it’s perfectly fine to use them to start sentences.
One more thing: most people don’t put commas before coordinating conjunctions although we used to. Partly this is because we tend to write shorter sentences these days, and partly it’s because few people know the rules any more.
- Subordinating conjunctions are words that join two parts of a sentence where you have some sort of cause and effect relationship, where one thing in the sentence depends on or follows on from the other in some way.
After, because, if, although, where, when, since are all subordinating conjunctions, and there are lots of others. Some may even be two words, such as: as if, even if, if only, such as.
These days, few people object to sentences starting with subordinating conjunctions. You’d have to be pretty obsessive to change ‘When you come to the meeting, please say hello to our new staff members,’ to ‘Please say hello to our new staff members when you come to the meeting.’
It’s worth paying attention to your commas in sentences like those examples. If you put your subordinating conjunction at the beginning of the sentence, include a comma between the two parts of the sentence. The previous sentence is an example of that usage. You do not usually need a comma if you put the subordinating conjunction in between the two halves. (Did you see what I did there?)
A common mistake, though, is to cut a long sentence into shorter sentences but leave the subordinating conjunction in one of the parts. Such as this one here. The longer and more complex your sentences, the easier it is to overlook this sort of error.
- Correlative conjunctions – aha, I bet you'd forgotten there was a third type. These come in pairs: whether/or, either/or, neither/nor, not only/but also. Sentences starting with the first part of one of these pairs are quite common: ‘Whether we accept her proposal or not, we still need to do something about that problem.’ ‘Either my network connection is down, or the whole system has crashed.’
Is that it?
The above should see you safely through the most common sorts of mistakes involving joining words. If in doubt about whether to use a conjunction, particularly if you are writing a longish sentence, remember: keep it short and simple. Breaking the sentence up will help you to avoid problems. Here is an example:
At 37 words, this is rather a long sentence:
Figures show that total customer complaints are down by five percent since the beginning of 2012, thanks to the efforts of our dedicated complaint handling team, though the numbers of complaints made on social media are increasing.
A common mistake is to do this:
Figures show that total customer complaints are down by five percent since the beginning of 2012, thanks to the efforts of our dedicated complaint handling team. Though the numbers of complaints made on social media are increasing.
It doesn’t sound quite right, because the second sentence is what’s called a dependent clause. The reader expects the information to which it relates to be in the same sentence.
This is better:
Figures show that total customer complaints are down by five percent since the beginning of 2012, thanks to the efforts of our dedicated complaint handling team. However, the numbers of complaints made on social media are increasing.
OK, I get conjunctions – what about everything else?
If you feel you'd like advice on a wide range of writing matters rather than the content of a specific training course, look into email mentoring. We can assess two to three pages of text, send it back to you with track changes and comments, then discuss these in a half-hour phone call, all for £80. You can have as many sessions as you like, scheduled to suit you, without leaving your desk. For more information, contact .
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