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DTNg
04-03-2006, 02:32 PM
It's a pet peeve. Not as bad as those who write "they" when they really mean "he" or "she", but it comes close.

How acceptable is it to start a sentence with "And" or "But"? When one of my writers do this, I edit it out. I wonder if I'm being too nitpicky and old fashioned?

Humourwriter
04-03-2006, 03:55 PM
I just re-read a few of my columns at random (which, funnily enough, is how they seem to have been written), and I'm pretty much guilty of starting sentences with "And" and "But". But I've always liked the idea of writing the way I speak, so it sounds as natural as possible. The last thing I want is for the words to get in the way.

I also use "they" to mean "he or she", mainly because "he or she" sounds pretty stupid most of the time.

Remember: If our language didn't evolve, we'd all still be grunting, and all dialogue would sound like a porn movie.

Bill.

DTNg
04-03-2006, 04:31 PM
I also use "they" to mean "he or she", mainly because "he or she" sounds pretty stupid most of the time.

Remember: If our language didn't evolve, we'd all still be grunting, and all dialogue would sound like a porn movie.

Bill.

See I'm just the opposite. I think using "they" to indicate a single person sounds silly. I don't say "he or she", however. I use one or the other, or a different term such as "that person" or "the baby."

Is it now acceptable to use they? I'm under the impression it isn't, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

CaroGirl
04-03-2006, 04:58 PM
As far as I'm concerned, it has always been acceptable to start a sentence with "and" or "but", in the same way that it's okay to start a sentence with "because". As long as it's a complete sentence and not a fragment, it's fine. School teachers used to (maybe still do) tell students not to do this because they end up with fragments.

Aconite
04-03-2006, 06:49 PM
I have worked with some of the oldest texts in the English language (Old English/Anglo-Saxon--think "Beowulf") and I can state with authority that English users have started sentences with "and" and "but" from the very beginning.

It's also been acceptable for at least a couple of hundred years to use "they" in place of "he or she."

September skies
04-03-2006, 06:56 PM
I was taught in school not to start with End or But. Then I got on with the newspaper and learned that in certain sections of the story, in order for it to flow better, the word could be added. But, I used it too much. I have to go back and read my stories and ask myself if the word is really needed. Sometimes it sounds better.

As to "they" -- I never use it unless it is impossible to say what sex the person is. (for example, here, in the "tell something about the person below you" place)

Julie Worth
04-03-2006, 07:18 PM
How acceptable is it to start a sentence with "And" or "But"? When one of my writers do this, I edit it out. I wonder if I'm being too nitpicky and old fashioned?

We wouldn’t get along. In my 350 page WIP, I start 166 sentences with "And", and 132 with "But".

Jamesaritchie
04-03-2006, 07:34 PM
It's a pet peeve. Not as bad as those who write "they" when they really mean "he" or "she", but it comes close.

How acceptable is it to start a sentence with "And" or "But"? When one of my writers do this, I edit it out. I wonder if I'm being too nitpicky and old fashioned?


In formal writing, starting a sentence with a conjunction is often considered a bad thing, though some of the best formal writers have violated this "rule" often. In any other types of writng, however, it's perfectly acceptable, and is, I think, a good thing, as long as it's not overdone. AND in formal writing, it's considered bad grammar to use a contraction, as well. But you wouldn't edit out contractions in fiction, would you? Or in any form of conversational writing?

I don't believe I'd want to read fiction where the writer never started a sentence with a conjunction, particularly in thought or dialogue. It simply isn't realistic, and never has been. Conversational writing, which means a great deal of fiction, column writing, personal essay writing, etc., needs the occasional "and" or "but" at the beginning of a sentence. It's all about realism, convenience, and tone. For that matter, some of the best formal writing I've ever read had the occasional sentence that began with "and" or "but."

The rule of never starting a sentence with "and" or "but" was always arbitrary, even in formal writing. It always came in the form of "Because I say you shouldn't" rule, rather than one with specific reasons behind it, and good writers never have followed it.

Sometimes "and" or "but" is the best possible way to begin a sentence, and you can't just change such a sentence because of a completely arbitrary rule that never has been followed by good writers.

Such usage should never be overdone, and should be carefully monitored, but there are many times when the best possible first word in a sentence is "and" or "but."

As for using "they," or "their," rather than "he or she," his or her," etc., I'd say get used to it. The English language has no acceptable alternative except for clumsiness, and writing "he or she," or "his or her," is, at best, clumsy for most wrtiting styles.

People have been trying to introduce one alternative or another for many decades, but nothing has been found that caught on, so "they" and "their" are still used, and will be until and unless an acceptable alternative is found.

Jamesaritchie
04-03-2006, 07:39 PM
I have worked with some of the oldest texts in the English language (Old English/Anglo-Saxon--think "Beowulf") and I can state with authority that English users have started sentences with "and" and "but" from the very beginning.

It's also been acceptable for at least a couple of hundred years to use "they" in place of "he or she."

All true. "And" or "but" is an English teacher rule that never has had a grammatical reason behind it. "They" in place of "he or she" can certainly be overdone, but is often the smoothest way of writing, and the most easily undrstood. "They" has been an acceptable substitute for "he or she" for centuries, and there's no logical reason I can see why it shouldn't be. It works very well, is always understood, and is far less clumsy in most circumstances than writing "he or she."

DTNg
04-03-2006, 07:46 PM
Good insight, thanks. I guess the moral of this story is for me to stop being so anal?

maestrowork
04-03-2006, 07:55 PM
In formal writing, or newspaper/magazine articles, it's probably not a good thing. It's a style issue, not grammar. In fiction, which is considered "casual writing," I don't see the occasional use as a problem. However, like anything excessive, if the author overuses the style, it becomes grating.

Jamesaritchie
04-03-2006, 08:22 PM
Good insight, thanks. I guess the moral of this story is for me to stop being so anal?

Nah, just read the writing and listen to how it sounds, rather than looking for "rules" it violates. Now, can we talk about splitting an infinitive, and ending a sentence with a preposition. These are two more rules that seldom make sense in English.

The never split an infinitive rule comes from Latin, which makes no sense at all because Latin has one word infinitives that can't be split. Why someone decided this meant you shouldn't split an infinitive in English is just strange. And Winston Churchill had the best answer I've ever read about ending a snetence with a preposition. "This is the sort of errant pedantry up with which I will not put."

DTNg
04-03-2006, 09:08 PM
Nah, just read the writing and listen to how it sounds, rather than looking for "rules" it violates. Now, can we talk about splitting an infinitive, and ending a sentence with a preposition. These are two more rules that seldom make sense in English.

The never split an infinitive rule comes from Latin, which makes no sense at all because Latin has one word infinitives that can't be split. Why someone decided this meant you shouldn't split an infinitive in English is just strange. And Winston Churchill had the best answer I've ever read about ending a snetence with a preposition. "This is the sort of errant pedantry up with which I will not put."

So then it's ok for me to ask "where's it at?"

reph
04-03-2006, 10:26 PM
So then it's ok for me to ask "where's it at?"
I draw the line somewhere this side of "Where's it at?" but I accept "What's he up to?" and "Leave with the one you came in with."

maestrowork
04-03-2006, 10:30 PM
Or "That's something I won't put up with."

Jamesaritchie
04-04-2006, 12:10 AM
So then it's ok for me to ask "where's it at?"

No, but it isn't because of the preposition. The problem here is really wordiness. "At" isn't needed, so you don't need to end the sentence with it. The sentence should be "Where is it?" Contractions frequently cause wordiness.

One of the offenders that drives me crazy is "I've got it," or "I've got one."

It should be "I have it," or "I have one." I don't think anyone would say"I have got it," but that's exactly what a person is saying when they write "I've got it." It's as if people forget that a contraction is really two words.

Sometimes a sentence should not be ended with a preposition, and sometimes it should. If you follow the rule if every case you end up with some horrible sentences. Many grammar rules have exceptions, and teh preposition rule has many, many, many exceptions.

Jamesaritchie
04-04-2006, 12:15 AM
Or "That's something I won't put up with."

This, of course, was Churchill's point. "That's something I won't put up with" is how any normal person would say it, but it's grammatically "incorrect" because "with" is a preposition.

Churchill's statement, on the other hand "This is the sort of errant pedantry up with wihich I will not put," sounds truly stupid, and no real person would ever speak this way, but it's grammatically perfect.

blacbird
04-04-2006, 02:05 AM
It isn't really a matter of "correct" vs. "incorrect". I've heard that the dictum against ending a sentence with a preposition was an invention of a 19th-Century grammarian (might have been Dryden) who was interested in imposing certain Latin grammatical conventions on the English language, and doesn't derive organically from English itself. If you go look at some of the prose masters of English writing prior to 1800 (Fielding, Johnson, Swift, etc.), and later, for that matter, you'll probably have no trouble finding sentences that end with prepositions.

caw.

reph
04-04-2006, 02:07 AM
One of the offenders that drives me crazy is "I've got it," or "I've got one."

It should be "I have it," or "I have one." I don't think anyone would say"I have got it," but that's exactly what a person is saying when they write "I've got it." It's as if people forget that a contraction is really two words.
I think this is one of those British/American differences, with a history. "I've got it" and "I've got to get up early tomorrow" sound as natural and correct to me as anything else. The American Heritage Dictionary's definition of "get" allows both uses (in present perfect only), and they aren't labeled as other than standard.

Cat Scratch
04-04-2006, 03:51 AM
Lapsing Into a Comma by Bill Walsh says that starting sentences with "but" or "and" is perfectly acceptable, as is referring to a hypothetical person as "they." But I really only brought the book out as a reference because it still smells like candy.

pianoman5
04-04-2006, 04:17 AM
I think this is one of those British/American differences, with a history. "I've got it" and "I've got to get up early tomorrow" sound as natural and correct to me as anything else.

No, it's not really a British/American thing. In Britain and the Commonwealth too, 'I've got... is more commonly heard than 'I have...'.

For informal purposes, I think the 'gots' have it.

janetbellinger
04-04-2006, 04:29 AM
I edit the words "and" and "but" out of the beginning of any sentences, in my own writing, even if it is to the detriment of the sentence. I am afraid that either of these words would be annoying to the reader. The way I look at it, is that the reader is on a razor edge as whether to snap the book closed or keep on reading. It's up to me to minimize reasons for putting it down.

Jamesaritchie
04-04-2006, 05:35 AM
I think this is one of those British/American differences, with a history. "I've got it" and "I've got to get up early tomorrow" sound as natural and correct to me as anything else. The American Heritage Dictionary's definition of "get" allows both uses (in present perfect only), and they aren't labeled as other than standard.

Of course it sounds natural. So do about 90% of the common mistakes in grammar most people use daily. But contractions are two words, not one, and natural or not, it just isn't very good writing. Learn to avoid the contraction, and these things start sounding very unnatural immediately.

And that's why you shouldn't use a dictionary for grammar.

Jamesaritchie
04-04-2006, 05:51 AM
I edit the words "and" and "but" out of the beginning of any sentences, in my own writing, even if it is to the detriment of the sentence. I am afraid that either of these words would be annoying to the reader. The way I look at it, is that the reader is on a razor edge as whether to snap the book closed or keep on reading. It's up to me to minimize reasons for putting it down.

You're far more likely to annoy readers by never having a sentence that begins with "and" or "but." You aren't minimizing the reasons a reader might snap the book closed, you're only adding to them. "And" and "but" should not be used often at the begining of a sentence, but when doing so improves the sentence, or when it's a way a real person would say something, when it's something a reader expects, you need to use "and" or "but."

Few things annoy readers more than writing that sounds formal and unnatural, that sounds as if an English teacher wrote it, rather than a person just like the reader.

The real trick, however, is to always be true to the POV character, not only in dialogue, but in narrative. If you never begin a sentence with "and" or "but," make sure you only use POV characters who would never begin a sentence this way.

reph
04-04-2006, 06:07 AM
The fact that "I've" is a contraction isn't the only relevant one. Expand the contraction, and you have "I have got," for which usage varies also. The Careful Writer (Theodore Bernstein) discusses "have got" in the entry "Got vs. gotten." There are trans-Atlantic differences; there are differences between usage in speech and writing. I just typed an extract from a dictionary, with many tedious font changes, for another post. Well, here's a typographically similar extract from Bernstein's book, a usage manual.

Marckwardt explains that get early developed got or gotten as its past participle, but that in England gotten seems not to have continued in use beyond the middle or late part of the seventeenth century, while Americans have continued to use it up to the present. Thus Americans have been able to make the distinction between have got and have gotten, which the British cannot do in precisely the same way.

. . . What is clearly under consideration in the whole passage [from Marckwardt, not given here] is spoken English rather than written English. Both have got and have gotten are appropriate to spoken language, but usually are inappropriate to written language. In have got, indicating possession, the got is obviously superfluous and the phrase would be presented in writing as have or own or possess. Have gotten might occasionally be useful in written language, particularly when the verb does not take an object. . . .
I note (Bernstein doesn't) that "I've a clean shirt" is common in British, but not American, speech.

cw37066
04-04-2006, 06:28 AM
"They" has been an acceptable substitute for "he or she" for centuries, and there's no logical reason I can see why it shouldn't be."

"They" is plural, "he" or "she" is singular, that is what has always bothered me about it, however, it is almost impossible to avoid the use of the word "they" in writing because "he or she" sounds ridiculously stilted at times. imo.

cw37066
04-04-2006, 06:30 AM
So then it's ok for me to ask "where's it at?"


LOL ACCCCCCKKKK I reside in the south and this is a common phrase for people to use down here. I hate it.

Carmy
04-04-2006, 07:28 AM
I use 'and' and 'but' to start setneces when the text calls for it, or it's the way a character speaks.

I rarely use "got" and "gotten" makes me cringe. I refuse to use it.

Euan H.
04-04-2006, 07:44 AM
Of course it sounds natural. So do about 90% of the common mistakes in grammar most people use daily.
If it sounds natural, and nearly all native speakers of a language would accept it (as most people on this thread seem to), then that's a damn good sign that it's grammatical. If the grammar you're using says that normal usage is ungrammatical, then probably it's the grammar that's wrong, not the usage, as you pointed out with the preposition "rule".

Saying that a contraction is two words is beside the point if people are consistently use " 've got" in alternation with "have". "I've it" sounds just as unnatural as "I have got it," but that doesn't mean that "I have it" is ungrammatical.

veronie
04-04-2006, 08:03 AM
It's fine to start sentences with "and" or "but." Like anything else, however, it can be overdone. The idea that you should never start a sentence with "but" is one of those lies your English teacher told you.

ATP
04-04-2006, 08:05 AM
In reference to the original post, I would state that if one compares 'standard British' usage (Guardian newspaper) you will find less sentences beginning with "and" or "but". However, many US newspapers, from the largest to the smallest, appear to begin sentences with either of these two words.

ATP

Aconite
04-04-2006, 02:05 PM
you will find less sentences beginning with "and" or "but". Since this is the grammar board, I think I may point out that it should be "fewer" instead of "less." That distinction seems to be almost lost in casual usage.

zarch
04-04-2006, 10:55 PM
Since this is the grammar board, I think I may point out that it should be "fewer" instead of "less." That distinction seems to be almost lost in casual usage.

Amen. Less volume; fewer items. Misuse of less/fewer drives me crazy.

veronie
04-05-2006, 12:08 AM
Since this is the grammar board, I think I may point out that it should be "fewer" instead of "less." That distinction seems to be almost lost in casual usage.

I noticed it, too. But I thought one issue at a time. :)