But can we do this?

Reaching out from lockdown, Arno Pedram asked:

I was wondering if it was ok to start a sentence with “and.” Here is my example:

The organization has been working on finding justice for other families whose relatives died at the hands of the police. And in March, just before lockdown, Amal Bentounsi and three other families who lost someone to the police launched a copwatch app.

My answer, in part:

When I was growing up and taking English class in school, it was considered practically a sin to start a sentence with “and,” “but” and “or,” which are conjunctions — words that join things. But this is one of many grammar rules that have loosened up over the years, and it’s become much more acceptable.

And then I went on to start a sentence with and.

And, but, or, nor, for, so and yet are coordinating conjunctions. Conjunction comes from two Latin roots, con (with) + iunct (join); therefore they are words that join other words together. Coordinating conjunctions join elements of equal rank: nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, phrases with phrases, and so on. They are the conjunctions in compound sentences — those with multiple clauses of equal importance, as opposed to complex sentences, which have one main clause and one or more subordinate clauses. The words that connect those to the main clause are called subordinating conjunctions.

So if you start a sentence with a conjunction, what is it connecting? Technically, not the parts of a single sentence, but perhaps more broadly the idea of the sentence to the one preceding it. To my mind, a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence serves as something like an adverb, with a bit of added emphasis or urgency.

Grammar Girl concurs, backing up my answer to a question I’m asked constantly: “A conjunction at the beginning of a sentence creates a different feeling. . . . However doesn’t have the same feel as but. It’s a slightly higher register. . . . It signals that a contrasting thought is on the way, and allows the reader to prepare. If that’s what you want, fine. But if you want that information to hit harder and faster, the conjunction but is a better choice.” 

So does the J-school’s writing coach and resident grammar nerd, Deb Stead, with a caveat: “I’m okay with starting a sentence with and.” In Arno’s example above, “I’d need to see a little more copy before deciding if the writer should start with the March event and then use the and sentence for the new work of the group. In other words, I might ask the writer to be sure to do things chronologically. But that’s a separate issue.”

So does Merrill Perlman, onetime metro copy chief at The New York Times and later manager of copy desks throughout the newsroom, in this 2011 post from her blog for Columbia Journalism Review. And so do multiple authorities on The Writer.

Journalists today aim to write in a less formal, more conversational style than in the past; well, this is how people talk. And if the rest of the world can treat media as singular, I can start a sentence with a conjunction.

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