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Robert's Rules of Writing #73: Join Up

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

With this rule, Masello takes a look at the question of starting a sentence with a conjunction. Is it okay, he asks, to start a sentence with the word "and" or "but"?

His answer is yes. His basic attitude, which is simple and elegant, is that prose has to flow. There's no need to follow a writing "rule" just because it was taught to you years ago in elementary school. He sums up his main point with the following question, one he asks himself when writing a sentence: "Does it sound right and communicate my meaning?"

Masello also uses this short essay to discuss words and phrases such as "of course," "furthermore," and "consequently." I have to admit that I'm glad to see him encourage these transition words. Frequently (hey, there's one now!), when I'm writing blog posts, I start my sentences with transition words and I wonder if I'm coming off as too formal in my prose. After thinking about it for a while, I came to the same decision that Masello did. If the transition makes my meaning clearer, then by all means I ought to leave it in.

On the other hand, I still try to avoid starting sentences with "and" or "but." Generally, I'll try to rephrase my sentences if I find that I'm starting a sentence with the word "and." The word "but" is easier to replace, though; I usually just go with a "however." However (ha!), I sometimes find that I start two or three paragraphs in a row with the word "however" when writing a first draft, and so I have to go back and edit myself yet again.

Does this post remind anyone else of "Conjunction Junction" from Schoolhouse Rock?

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein


I tend to be careful when starting sentences with "and" as well, so as to avoid inadvertently sounding like the King James version of Genesis. Sometimes it can be well dramatic in that very sense, though: "And his prayer was granted." --The Silmarillion
Isn't the "no conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence" rule pretty much bunk, anyway? I believe it's actually considered grammatically correct, so long as the rest of the sentence is complete.

Wish I knew where my Chicago Manual of Style is, so I could look it up.
The rule about no conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence is one of those arbitrary ones. I'm not sure if it's considered grammatically incorrect, but as a linguistic descriptivist I tend to reject the rule anyway.
"What's your function?"
Oooh! The three Burstein babes must be letting you get to sleep at night!
Um, what?

(Nu, your wife isn't a babe too?)

Anyhow, the comment was because you're rather infrequently having posts of this sort, so you must've gotten sleep recently.
Actually, sleep has been an issue this week...
I try not to use "and" at the beginning of descriptive sentences, except when I use it for emphasis. I do use it in dialogue because many people do speak that way. And I think I've made my point. :)
I'm bad for using "of course" as a place-holder and have to go back and weed it out later. o.O

December 2016

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