Can I start a sentence with together with?

Todays topic is whether its OK to begin a sentence with and, but, or or. The short answer is yes, and just about all modern grammar books and style guides agree! So who is it that

Can I start a sentence with together with?

Todays topic is whether its OK to begin a sentence with and, but, or or. The short answer is yes, and just about all modern grammar books and style guides agree! So who is it that keeps saying its wrong to do it?

Its Fine to Start a Sentence with a Coordinating Conjunction

And, but, and or are the three most common members of a group of words known as coordinating conjunctions. The question about whether its grammatical to begin a sentence with and, but, or or is actually the question of whether its grammatical to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. Heres what some of the big usage guides say on the matter. The one that seems to get quoted the most is the Chicago Manual of Style, which says:

There is a widespread beliefone with no historical or grammatical foundationthat it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.

Both Garners Modern American Usage, and Fowlers Modern English Usage call this belief a superstition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (or MWDEU) says, Everybody agrees that its all right to begin a sentence with and, and notes that you can find examples of it all the way back to Old English.

Many People Have Been Taught That Its Wrong

However, MWDEU also observes that nearly everybody admits to having been taught at some past time that the practice was wrong. So where did this idea come from? In The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal writes:

During the 19th century, some schoolteachers took against the practice of beginning a sentence with a word like but or and, presumably because they noticed the way young children overused them in their writing.

But instead of gently weaning the children away from overuse, they banned the usage altogether! Generations of children were taught they should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. Some still are. (Entry for and)

If youve ever been angry at a teacher who kept your whole class in from recess because two or three of your classmates were misbehaving, you should have a big problem with this rationale for not beginning a sentence with a conjunction. They think you cant handle the freedom of using conjunctions!

Its true that you can easily fall into a habit of beginning sentences with coordinating conjunctions. Still, being able to do so occasionally allows you more flexibility and control over the tone of your writing, and allows more variety. For example, listen to the following two sentences:

Squiggly turned in his application on time. But he forgot to include his application fee.

By making the clause about turning in the application a single sentence, and beginning the next sentence with but, we have the combination of a sentence-final pause and a sudden afterthought delivered in a short burst. Now suppose we joined the two clauses with a comma:

Squiggly turned in his application on time, but he forgot to include his application fee.

Now theres not as much of a pause, so the surprise is lessened. If thats what you want, fine, but if you really want the pause that comes from ending a sentence, what do you do? Another possibility is to begin the second sentence with a transition word or phrase with a similar meaning, such as however, like this:

Squiggly turned in his application on time. However, he forgot to include his application fee.

A Conjunction at the Beginning of a Sentence Creates a Different Feeling

Lets face it, though: However doesnt have the same feel as but. Its a slightly higher register. Furthermore, like all transition words and phrases, it requires a pause afterward, which we write as a comma. [But pauses dont always equal commas!] It signals that a contrasting thought is on the way, and allows the reader to prepare. If thats what you want, fine. But if you want that information to hit harder and faster, the conjunction but is a better choice.

Are We Making Sentence Fragments?

Another reason for believing that you cannot begin sentences with a coordinating conjunction is the idea that this turns a sentence into a fragment. This misconception may come from a confusion about what conjunctions are. Conjunctions are traditionally divided into three kinds: coordinating, correlative, and subordinating. Its only that last kind that will turn a clause into a fragment. In fact, coordinating and correlative conjunctions are different enough from subordinating conjunctions that they should probably not all be called conjunctions, but thats a topic for another episode.

Coordinating Conjunctions Versus Subordinating Conjunctions

So how can you make sure youre using a coordinating conjunction and not a subordinating conjunction? The easiest way is just to memorize the coordinating conjunctions. Of course you know about and, but, and or, because theyre the most common and the most versatile. In addition to joining clauses, they can join almost any other kind of word or phrase. Another coordinating conjunction that can join many kinds of words and phrases is yet. In addition to these four, there are a few less-versatile conjunctions that can only join clauses: for, nor, and so. (Actually, if you speak British English, you might also use so to join verbs and verb phrases, but in American English, it sounds funny when you do that.) Many grammar sources, including my book Grammar Girls Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, keep track of the coordinating conjunctions by using the mnemonic word fanboys, which stands for for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. If you listened to episode 366, you may remember that the word slash has been evolving into a coordinating conjunction, too, but thats still far from entering the list of coordinating conjunctions in Standard English.

Subordinating conjunctions include words such as if, because, although, when, and many others. Unlike coordinating conjunctions, which can make a complete sentence by combining with two clauses or just one clause, subordinating conjunctions definitely need two. For example, because I wasnt happy is a fragment, because it has combined with only one clause: I wasnt happy. On the other hand, I switched jobs because I wasnt happy is a complete sentence, with because joining two clauses: I switched jobs and I wasnt happy.

One quick and dirty tip for distinguishing subordinating conjunctions from coordinating conjunctions is this: a coordinating conjunction has to come between the clauses it connects, but a subordinating conjunction can come before both of them. For example, you can say, Because I wasnt happy, I switched jobs, with because coming before the first of the two clauses. That means because is a subordinating conjunction. On the other hand, its nonsense to say, But Squiggly forgot to include his application fee. He turned in his application on time. The but has to come in between the clauses, which tells us that its a coordinating conjunction.

So as long as you know how to avoid accidental sentence fragments, feel free to begin sentences with a coordinating conjunction. But dont overdo it. Or it might be disconcerting to your audience. And we wouldnt want that, would we?

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Can I start a sentence with a conjunction?

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