Is it ever OK in prose to start a sentence with "and"?
September 3, 2004 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Is it ever OK in prose to start a sentence with "and"? The general situation I'm thinking of is when you want to insert a sort of dramatic pause into the middle of a narrative sentence that has "and" (or any conjunction in it).

E.g. - "We were so relieved when MetaFiler came back online after being down for several hours. And yet we secretly relished those moments, the reclaimed time during which we visited other web sites long forgotten."
posted by badstone to Writing & Language (35 answers total)
 
Kurt Vonnegut does it almost every other sentence.
posted by ZippityBuddha at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2004


Are you writing an English/grammar textbook? If not, then yes, it's OK.
posted by blueshammer at 12:04 PM on September 3, 2004


Believe it or not there's a good discussion of this in the movie Finding Forrester. Technically speaking it isn't grammatical, but you can use it sparingly to punch up your text.
posted by coelecanth at 12:06 PM on September 3, 2004


In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And the evening and the morning were the third day.
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
posted by grumblebee at 12:07 PM on September 3, 2004


Very quickly grabbed from Samuel Johnson's "Lives of the Poets" (upon which a sentence begins with "And" on nearly every page): "Sir Richard very frankly confessed that they were fellows of whom he would very willingly be rid. And being then asked why he did not discharge them, declared that they were bailiffs, who had introduced themselves with an execution, and whom, since he could not send them away, he had thought it convenient to embellish with liveries, that they might do him credit while they stayed. "

If it's good enough for Johnson, it's good enough for me.
posted by Faze at 12:10 PM on September 3, 2004


Hurray I'm justified! For some reason I've been deathly afraid of doing it, but I really really need and want to right now. Thanks!
posted by badstone at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2004


I think it's OK, but don't ever start a sentence with but..
posted by ascullion at 12:20 PM on September 3, 2004


I think a great rule of thumb for writing -- unless it's really formal writing -- is to read it outloud to yourself. If it flows, go with it. And it's okay to break your English teacher's rules as long as you do so for simple, evocative reasons. Do you hear me? Simple. Evocative. Reasons.

Most readers pause between sentences. Did you pause between My last three "sentences" in the paragraph above this one? My English teachers told me that a sentence MUST have a subject and verb. Hogwash!

The main way you can go wrong is to make up your own punctuation codes that aren't generally shared. For instance ... I hade a discussion with one of our own dear MeFi members ... he kept putting ...ellipses... in odd places ... and I asked him why ... he said that was just the way the thinks...

But the problem is, I still don't get what he means. I don't know how I'm supposed to read his ellipses. He's using "..." in a very personal way.

Writing is about communication. If you and I don't map the same meanings to the same symbols, we're lost.
posted by grumblebee at 12:31 PM on September 3, 2004


But, ascullion, why not?
posted by grumblebee at 12:31 PM on September 3, 2004


Even The Economist starts sentences with "and" and "but." I suppose that's a kind of seal of approval.

My personal feeling is that the answer is "no." I used to do some editing work, and my first step would always be to make sure that the grammar and usage met all of those Strunk-and-White-era usage guidelines. No sentences starting with conjunctions were allowed, and no sentences ending with prepositions (a much more absolute no-no).

I was always surprised by how, after all these basically permissable but officially verboten constructions were removed, the prose seemed more elegant and better written, more stately and official. Of course, if you're writing on Metafilter, it doesn't matter one iota. If it's an official, important, or professional document, however, I wouldn't do it.
posted by josh at 12:49 PM on September 3, 2004


I always figure the "..." should be read as a pause, longer than a comma but shorter than a period. Useful when you want to sound like Jeff Goldblum.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2004


In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And...


Probably a carryover from the Hebrew. (Hebrew text).
posted by callmejay at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2004


Wow. You folks sure covered this one quickly! There's nothing more for me to add. And I would have enjoyed this discussion. grumblebee, great point about about the dramatic "Biblical" sound of it.

I'll ask again, Does anyone know of any fun Grammar/LanguageFilters on the 'Net for questions like these?
posted by Shane at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2004


Dramatic:

"He only had one match left, and the match was wet."

Better:

"He only had one match left. And the match was wet."

Then again, how 'bout this:

"He only had one match left.

The match was wet."

:-)
posted by Shane at 1:08 PM on September 3, 2004


And?
posted by chrid at 1:14 PM on September 3, 2004


Eats, Shoots and Leaves covers this. The author is ambivalent but in the end, says it's fine*.


*IIRC
posted by Gyan at 1:36 PM on September 3, 2004


Eats, Shoots and Leaves...

T'ain't always reliable :-)
posted by Shane at 1:40 PM on September 3, 2004


Shane, you might like painintheenglish.com.
posted by grumblebee at 1:46 PM on September 3, 2004


InfidelZombie, to each his own, but I think that short pause, medium pause, long pause thing is confusing. I bet if we polled 100 people, we'd get great variety of opinions as to which pause should be longer, the periond or the....

If I'm right, then it probably shouldn't be used for pauses, because it will just lead to confusion.

I'm generally fine with a comma-short pause and a period-full stop. Do we really nead something in-between.

Ellipses DO have a real use -- well, two real uses, actually. You can use them to show you've cut out part of a quotation:

"I like all ice cream flavors," he said, "including chocolate, vanillia, vanilla chocolate twist, strawberry, peach, cherry peach, bubblegum..."

You can also use them to convey thought or dialogue cut off in mid...

But here's MY question (this has actually come up): what do you do if you're quoting some text, and the text you're quoting already has ellipsis in it -- and you want to cut some more out? How do you indicate the distinction between the original cuts and your added cuts? Or what if you don't want to cut anything out? How is the reader supposed to know that the elipses came from the original quotation -- not from an edit made by you?
posted by grumblebee at 1:57 PM on September 3, 2004


"what do you do if you're quoting some text, and the text you're quoting already has ellipsis in it [...] How do you indicate the distinction between the original cuts and your added cuts?"

Same way you indicate any other difference from the original, I guess. It's been a while since I've seen anyone do it that way, but I haven't lately been reading anything too scholarly.
posted by sfenders at 2:28 PM on September 3, 2004


You're right, sfenders, but that doesn't solve my second problem. Let's say I'm writing something like this:

In David Mamet's adaptation of "The Three Sisters," Natalya sucks up to her sister-in-law, saying, "Take care of yourself ... Irina. My Jewel..."

Are those ellipsis mine (indicating I've left something out) or Mamet's (indicating Natalya has trailed off in her speech)? As it turns out, they're Mamet's. I haven't cut anything. I can't think of a graceful, compact way of indicating that.
posted by grumblebee at 2:45 PM on September 3, 2004


Can [sic] be used for that, even though it's not a spelling error?

Dictionary.com: Used to indicate that a quoted passage, especially one containing an error or unconventional spelling, has been retained in its original form or written intentionally.
posted by ALongDecember at 3:14 PM on September 3, 2004


And that's that.
posted by jacknose at 3:48 PM on September 3, 2004


Grumblebee, that is a great site (painintheenglish), sort of like alt.usage.english but civil. Thank you.
posted by caddis at 5:32 PM on September 3, 2004


Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:04 PM on September 3, 2004


Anything is okay in writing, if you do it well.
posted by rushmc at 7:32 PM on September 3, 2004


Anything, perhaps, except for libel, fraud and all-caps.

I can't think of a graceful, compact way of indicating that.

Put it in a footnote or something. Footnotes are nifty. I often find that parenthetical stuff like "punctuation is original" seems much more awkward when writing it than it does when reading.
posted by sfenders at 7:47 PM on September 3, 2004


Good question, grumblebee, and thanks for the Pain! (-InTheEnglish.)
posted by Shane at 8:23 PM on September 3, 2004


Regarding people who ellipses-write... A guy I know uses commas instead,,, And I don't know,,,,,, why. Sometimes he uses a lot of them.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:23 AM on September 4, 2004


grumblebee, you can say something like "[ellipses in the original]". Kind of the opposite of "[italics mine]" that you often see when an author of an analysis wants to emphasize part of the quotation.
posted by occhiblu at 11:45 AM on September 4, 2004


Hi. My name is Dejah...and I abuse ellipses...it's true, I do it wantonly...with no regard for the harm done to future generations. Ha, I say to them...HA! You'll never get my dots....do you hear me? Never! And...I'll start sentences with the word "and", despite the 12 years of ruler wielding nuns who tried to beat it out of me. But...and this is an important but....I never start sentences with a conjunction dressed up as a preposition. That would just be silly.
posted by dejah420 at 12:37 PM on September 4, 2004


Out of interest, Dejah, WHY do you "abuse" ellipses? Is it just a mindless habbit or is it meant to communicate something? When you write "...", what goes through your head?

In your post, above (which I should probably discount, becuase my guess is you were being purposefully silly), I DO get the last use of them. It's unorthodox, but you were using them as most people use dashes or paranthesis. But I don't get what they're doing after "Deja" (why not just "My name is Dejah and I abuse..."? with maybe a comma before the "and.") I would say that you use "..." as standins for all punctuation marks and leave it up to the reader to figure out which one they stand for in which situation, but you DO use other marks, like your comma after "Ha" and your assorted periods.

You're not alone in abusing ellepsis. I see it all the time -- especially with young people (and especially online). Where doesn this "style" come from? Why "..." and not "%%%", "~~~" or, as RustyBrooks suggests, ",,,"?
posted by grumblebee at 1:06 PM on September 4, 2004


Are you writing an English/grammar textbook? If not, then yes, it's OK.

Actually, this depends on who is writing the textbook. If it's a prescriptive grammarian (i.e. basing their opinion on nothing more than what opinion their prescriptive grammarian mentors held, and so on), they might say it's not ok. However, the linguist-authored Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (link) has this to say:

"Such coordinators as and, or, and but can occur in sentence-initial position. For example, speaker A might say, She thoroughly enjoyed it, and B then add, And so did her mother. It is clear that and here forms a unit with so did her mother." (p. 1277)

I would also check the OED but my library's proxy server seems to be down. I bet it documents uses of this kind quite thoroughly, though.
posted by advil at 2:37 PM on September 4, 2004


Which brings up yet ANOTHER question (is anyone still reading this thread). In Elizabethan times, it was clearly considered okay to start sentences with and (though they had such lax rules back then). I suspect that is has been okay for most of the history of English. At what point did English teachers start telling their students not to begin sentences with and. And why? I have a feeling that this was some particular person's strong opinion, and it spread -- becoming a rule. Does anyone know how to reasearch this sort hypothesis?
posted by grumblebee at 3:11 PM on September 4, 2004


Out of interest, Dejah, WHY do you "abuse" ellipses?


Mostly to listen to them squeal for mercy! Mwhahahahahahahaha, etc.

Actually, I use ellipses where often times a long dash would be appropriate and I don't feel like doing the code. It's often used to signify a longer pause than a comma conveys...as though I'm trying to express my actual speaking pattern and cadence. I also use them to separate clauses in instances where parenthetical enclosures would be more correct, but in my opinion break the reader's flow. (All those curves distracting them, doncha know.)

Also, I use them where I would occasionally be risking a comma splice by keeping clauses independent, or risk the memetic value of what I was attempting to say if I restructured the sentence with a subordinate clause or when breaking the sentence into independent entities would ruin the flow. Yes, I know independent clauses can be juxtaposed to form one compound sentence by using a semicolon, or a comma and a coordinating conjunction...but it's just not the same. ;)

It is periodically a placeholder for a train of thought, some of which I even revisit.

Mostly, it's a personal style for casual or non-formal written communication. I certainly wouldn't do it in my dissertation, nor in fact do I do it when handwriting text which often includes little flourishes and other decorative iconography where dots might be if it were an online missive.

So...in summary...I do it because I want to. :) I know the rules, I just refuse to be bound by them. Damn The Man and his grammatical tyranny!

As to the etymology of conjunctions rules, I believe that you'll find these "rules" were invented by Robert Lowth, who gave us the concept of prescriptive grammar deprecating split infinitives, starting sentence with *and*, prepositional endings, and double negatives.
posted by dejah420 at 9:52 PM on September 5, 2004


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