Many people were taught not to start sentences with and, because, or however, but such “rules” are mythical.
Relax. Although we learned valuable lessons about grammar and punctuation in school, English and writing teachers also taught us a few guidelines that might have been rules at one time in history but are no longer. Numerous “principles” were passed along from generation to generation, but many teachers probably could not have explained to us why those were rules.
- And – This simple little word normally functions as a conjunction, connecting sentence elements. But if you have a sentence that’s a little longer than normal, and you want to let the reader pause to breathe, you can insert a period and continue on this topic in the next sentence. And the and at the start of the sentence signals to the reader how the two thoughts are related, just as it does in this sentence. Don’t do it frequently on a page, but it’s a helpful device when you need it. Fowler’s Modern English Usage, a prominent resource, says that and at the start of a sentence “is a useful aid to the writer,” and that writers — even Shakespeare — have ignored the prohibition for centuries.
- Because – This too is a conjunction, or connecting word, that often appears at the head of the sentence to introduce a secondary element. Because several people can’t attend, I postponed the meeting. You also can move the “because” clause to the end of the sentence and write I postponed the meeting because several people can’t attend. But there is a subtle emphasis added to that information when it appears at the front of the sentence, and that extra stress is appropriate given that it’s the reason the meeting was rescheduled. Here is another example: Because no one had arrived, we left. (adds emphasis to the fact that no one showed up.)
- However – People routinely use but at the start of a sentence, but they avoid using however, apparently because they imagine Miss Crabtree wagging her finger at them. One meaning of however is “in spite of that,” or “nevertheless.” It is a contrast word that can be used at the start of a sentence to indicate a shift in thought from what you said in the previous sentence, as in, “We were disappointed to lose the bid. However, we learned from the experience.” In such a case, insert a comma after however. (When you use however in the middle of the sentence, you usually need a semicolon before it and a comma after it.) Here is another way that however is used at the front of a sentence:
However long I work here, I will want this office.
In that example, however means in whatever manner or by whatever means. No comma should appear after however in that context.
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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at Amazon.com.