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Why not start a sentence with "But"

aubie56

I have seen a lot of messages over the years from people who claim that it is a no-no to start a sentence with "But." On the other hand, I have never encountered a case where somebody complains about starting a sentence with "However."

Since, in very many, if not most sentences, But and However are equivalent words, synonyms, no less, so why is one acceptable and not the other?

I ask the question because I often have need to start a sentence with But to make the flow of the language smoother and easier.

As an example:
1. The people around here are crazy. But, most people in this town are crazy.

2. The people around here are crazy. However, most people in this town are crazy.

This is a serious question, and I would appreciate an answer.

Dominions Son

@aubie56

Both are fine.

http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/032601startsentandbut.htm

Most likely, many people believe they should not start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction because their grammar teachers in grade school discouraged them from doing so. Yet such a rule is completely unjustifiable. When grammar teachers teach youngsters the essentials of sentence structure, they most likely explain that coordinating conjunctions are used to hold together elements within a sentence. Therefore, they may discourage students from starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions because they are trying not only to explain conjunctions but also to help their students learn to avoid sentence fragments like this one:

She was a nice girl. And smart, too.

In this example, using "and" after the period is wrong because the second "sentence" is not really a sentence at all: it has neither a subject nor a verb.

Thus, youngsters carry forward into adulthood the notion that a sentence should never begin with a coordinating conjunction, especially not with "and" or "but." In fact, however, professional writers have started sentences with coordinating conjunctions throughout history.

Replies:   aubie56
aubie56

@Dominions Son

Thank you DS for your comments. You and I agree exactly, so there is no room for argument or much for discussion. I was hoping that someone would argue with me so that I could learn how the "other half" lives. I am really curious about why some people believe so strongly in a topic that I see as having no basis.

One of the difficulties is that your argument is so sensible that it hurts. Oh, well...

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@aubie56

I was hoping that someone would argue with me so that I could learn how the "other half" lives.


The article I linked to explains that part. Because grade school teachers, for simplicity and avoiding incomplete sentences never teach that it's okay to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction as long as the sentence would be a complete sentence without it.

Too many people grow up without ever learning better.

Switch Blayde

@aubie56

Nope, that's not a grammar rule. It's fine to start a sentence with "but" and, for that matter, "and." You do it for emphasis.

There was a great exchange about it in the movie "Finding Forrester."

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@aubie56

Generally, "but" is acceptable to start sentences in fiction--especially in dialogue--but you've got to be very careful with it, as it's a delicate target. Generally, it's best to minimize it's use, and avoid it whenever possible. But if "But" delivers a stronger sentence, then it's perfectly fine to use.

On the other hand, "However" and "Yet" are the more accepted alternatives to begin a separate sentence with, and normally you can replace it with either (if the sentence is not strong enough to justify using "But").

The same principles apply to using other conjunctives like "And" and "Or". Generally, it's a bad idea to start a sentence with them, but that doesn't mean you can't, given you've considered which works best in any given case.

For myself, I flag each sentence starting with a conjuctive, just as I do most -ly adverbs, so I can review whether the sentence would be better off without them. It's amazing just how many adjectives are completely unnecessary, simply reinforcing what's already been said. The same is true in this regard. In general, while it's OK to split an extremely long sentence in two using "but", it's not always intelligent to do so. It boils down to a 'case by case' usage.

Replies:   graybyrd
graybyrd
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


"but" is acceptable to start sentences"but" is acceptable to start sentences in fiction--especially in dialogue--but you've got to be very careful with it, as it's a delicate target. in fiction--especially in dialogue--but you've got to be very careful with it, as it's a delicate target.


But, why?

Dominions Son

@graybyrd

But, why?


Why not.

Replies:   sejintenej
richardshagrin

Butt people are anal.

Not_a_ID

@graybyrd


But, why?


Because people get butt hurt over it.

Crumbly Writer

@graybyrd

But, why?

I originally intended "but 'but'", but I couldn't bring myself to actually type it.

My point was simply that, in fiction, authors have greater latitude in going with whatever works, rather than what fits with 'standardized English'. For authors, bad stories sink us every time, because then, everyone notices the things we get wrong. But as long as the story works, is both strong and compelling, readers will overlook minor issues like starting sentences with conjuntives. (Which is another reason for using them sparingly, only when the usage demands it, rather than as a matter of course).

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


My point was simply that, in fiction, authors have greater latitude in going with whatever works, rather than what fits with 'standardized English'.


Read the article I linked to. Starting an otherwise complete sentence with any coordinating conjunction (including but) is allowed in 'standardized English'. It's just that it isn't taught that way in primary schools, and most people never un-learn the error they are taught in grade school.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Read the article I linked to. Starting an otherwise complete sentence with any coordinating conjunction (including but) is allowed in 'standardized English'. It's just that it isn't taught that way in primary schools, and most people never un-learn the error they are taught in grade school.

I completely agree, but I was trying to present an alternate view, that it's simply more acceptable (for readers) in fiction than it is in non-fiction. But if readers start picking a story apart, they'll focus on minor issues like that, rather than pacing, development and delivery issues.

Perv Otaku

Best advice I've seen about grammar is you have to know the rules so that you know when breaking one from time to time is actually tolerable.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Perv Otaku

Best advice I've seen about grammar is you have to know the rules so that you know when breaking one from time to time is actually tolerable.

Or, more fittingly, you know when it's justified (i.e. is it worth breaking the rule or not, or are you just breaking it out of ignorance).

fhjohnauthor
Updated:

@aubie56


1. The people around here are crazy. But, most people in this town are crazy.


Since you are asking for an argument, I can give you one that makes perfect sense to me.

"The people around here are crazy, but most people in this town are crazy."

If I were writing this, I would prefer using one sentence over two in this case. (based on the limited amount of information provided).

I would not use 'however' in either case. As a general rule, I try to avoid the word 'however' as much as possible, unless I am writing a snobby character that views himself as superior to others.

Edited to add:

Also, as a general rule, I try to only begin a sentence with 'But' if I want to draw specific attention to that particular sentence. What I find when I am reading a story, is that my mind pauses for a moment when reading any sentence beginning with either 'But' or 'And'. This is fine occasionally, but if an author begins too many sentences with either 'But' or 'And' I find myself getting annoyed.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
sejintenej

@Dominions Son

"But" is a conjunction - that is it joins two phrases together so one must precede and one follow the but.
It could be a noun (as in the "but of a joke") but it would need to follow the definite or indefinite article.
It could, at least possibly, be a forename but that would be unusual and I wonder if any serious author would endow the MC with the moniker But Why let alone But Who or even But Off.
I don't know of it being an adjective, adverb or any other part of grammar.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@sejintenej


"But" is a conjunction - that is it joins two phrases together so one must precede and one follow the but.


True, but it's perfectly acceptable and valid within the rules of formal English to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction as long as it is a complete sentence. The preceding phrase would of course precede it as a separate complete sentence.


It could be a noun (as in the "but of a joke") but it would need to follow the definite or indefinite article.


The noun would be butt as in your arse.


It could, at least possibly, be a forename but that would be unusual and I wonder if any serious author would endow the MC with the moniker But Why let alone But Who or even But Off.


Actually lastname, but that again would be Butt, not But.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butt_%28name%29

ETA: Now I have to come up with a way to have a character who is a proctologist named Sean Butt.

Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son

Now I have to come up with a way to have a character who is a proctologist named Sean Butt.


How about a girl who works her way through medical school as a stripper under the name 'Bubbles' so she's Bubbles' Butt

awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son


True, but it's perfectly acceptable and valid within the rules of formal English to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction as long as it is a complete sentence.


Random thought: if the two sentences are joined by a semicolon, I suspect 'but' is proscribed.

AJ

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

Random thought: if the two sentences are joined by a semicolon, I suspect 'but' is proscribed.


That is probably true. But, it's not relevant since we are specifically talking about two separate sentences.

Crumbly Writer

@fhjohnauthor

"The people around here are crazy, but most people in this town are crazy."

If I were writing this, I would prefer using one sentence over two in this case. (based on the limited amount of information provided).

That's because you have a conditional clause. Without the second half of the sentence, the latter segment makes no sense. The two segments must be connect to satisfy the one clause. It's not a matter of preferences in this case, but of satisfying a required clause.

By the way, in your sample sentence, since the people in the town are assumed to be a part of the town, then it would be assumed that the people mentioned are crazy too. Thus it's a meaningless redundant sentence according to basic logic.

A better example of a split sentence would be: "I came, I saw, I conquered. But I spent a while getting started." < In this case, "However" works just as well as "But" does.

fhjohnauthor
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


That's because you have a conditional clause. Without the second half of the sentence, the latter segment makes no sense. The two segments must be connect to satisfy the one clause. It's not a matter of preferences in this case, but of satisfying a required clause.


Did you miss the fact that I was repeating an example previously used where that single sentence was split into two with 'But' beginning the second sentence? I agree with you, which is why I removed the period, added a comma and began the 'but' with a lowercase letter.

Even in your second paragraph, you are seeming to assume that the example was mine. I guess that's my fault. I should have quoted his entire example, showing that it was his example and not my own.

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer


"I came, I saw, I conquered. But I spent a while getting started."


Or the SOL version:

"I saw, I conquered, I came. But I spent a while on foreplay."

AJ

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