1. marcuslam
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    marcuslam New Member

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    Starting sentences with but

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by marcuslam, Mar 31, 2012.

    Long ago, my primary school teacher taught me to never begin sentences with "but". I grew up thinking that was the law, and there were no buts. However, as I became interested in reading, I noticed many books have sentences that break this rule. But I'm still not sure what the answer is. Thanks for helping out.

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  2. Erato
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    Erato New Member

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    To the best of my knowledge, using "but" is fine. The only restriction I know of is stylistic: don't start consecutive sentences with "but."

    When she arrived, he was gone. But she waited anyway, just in case. But he never showed up. But later, in her apartment, she discovered a note. But how had he gotten in to put it there? But then, he was a locksmith.

    Not good. One "but" is fine, and maybe you can follow it with one "however" or "on the other hand." But don't overdo it.
  3. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I use "but" and I feel it's appropriate. I do it to avoid run-on sentences.

    Suppose something needs to be described that needs a fuller explanation. This might happen if the lead is vacillating or I have to demonstrate a conundrum. I seem to change between "but" and "however."

    For me it's a necessity. The attributes of my lead are that's he's young, he's been fired a few times, he knows his mouth gets him in trouble and he's in a job where people get hurt. The break between sentences let's me better provide information about the event. It also allows me demonstrate a thought process by my lead.
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't do it in formal writing. The rules of fiction are somewhat more flexible. You can do many thinsg for effect that are not approved for formal writing. Even incomplete sentences.

    You can start a sentence with but in fiction. The Grammar Guard can wince and waggle a disapproving finger, but it's a bit outside their jurisdiction for such a minor offense.

    But don't overdo it.
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the same goes for 'and'...
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Member Supporter Contributor

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    Go ahead and start sentences with but or and. The only people who object, here in the 21st century, are pedantic grammar pains-in-the-ass who insist on adhering to arbitrary and obsolete rules.

    As others have said, don't overdo it, but that's aesthetic advice, not a rule.
  7. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless New Member

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    As everyone else is saying, it's fine in fiction. Just don't do it in anything that's suppose to be formal writing, follow the guidelines for the style if it's formal.

    They beat that same rule into my head as a child, didn't much like it when I pointed out the novels with it.
  8. Lightman
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    Lightman Member

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    I actually disagree with the idea that you should not start sentences with "but" or "and" in formal writing. Prestigious publications as The Economist regularly include sentences starting with conjunctions.
  9. Jowettc
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    Jowettc New Member

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    Sparingly and well applied to add beat, not as an excuse for bad grammar or writing...imo.
  10. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    I sort of agree. But it's in formal writing that you are most likely to meet the pedants who insist that because "but" is a conjunction it has to join two parts of a sentence -- as if English were logical! Avoiding constructions that are likely to get you into arguments, even if you're right, makes life easier.
  11. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Sorry Lightman, but that's not formal writing, that's journalism - however high brow the publiation, journalism has it's own rules.

    Formal writing refers more to academic essays, letters, legal documents etc. I wouldn't use 'But' or 'And' to start a sentence in any of those.
  12. Erato
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    Erato New Member

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    Same goes for "so" I think.

    Somehow, that's very apt...
  13. louis1
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    louis1 Member

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    best advice
  14. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless New Member

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    Yep, that's what I was referring to. As much as I love it, there's no way I'm going to start a sentence with But in my academic essays or research papers. Just follow their guidelines to the T and you'll save yourself a lot of heartache.
  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Member Supporter Contributor

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    I've noticed, by the way, that nobody likes reading formal writing. Maybe formal writing should loosen up. The way it is, it has probably outlived its usefulness.
  16. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless New Member

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    I love this. :)

    Unfortunately, while no one enjoys reading essays, legal documents, scientific papers etc, they have strict guidelines for a reason.
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Formal writing serves a purpose. It exercises and exposes logical analysis. The formal structure makes it more difficult to slip in sloppy or emotion-based reasoning without it being clear to the reader. It is a disciplined form of writing that remains powerful for the purposes it us used for.

    It has not outlived its usefulness at all. I will, however, agree that frowning on beginning sentences with conjunctions may be carrying formal grammar further than is necessary.
  18. Erato
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    Erato New Member

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    Seconded.
  19. marcuslam
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    marcuslam New Member

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    Thanks for the replies, everyone.

    It would be nice if formal writing loosened up. Sometimes, I feel like formal writers want to make me believe in their opinion by using big words to impress me. Nobody appreciates being preached upon.
  20. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    It depends what you mean. If you mean that formal writing is sometimes used where less formal writing would be more appropriate then I agree. If you think that some academic writers use more complex language than is necessary to communicate their ideas accurately then you are correct, but the purpose of such writing isn't just to communicate ideas accurately; it's also to indicate membership of a community in the same way as street slang does. And then there's the sort of writing I do for work. I try to make it easy to read but I'm conscious that it could end up being picked over in court at an inquest or public enquiry (I do aviation safety cases) so I have to write with a sort of pedantry and precision that can be frustrating.
  21. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Absolutely agree 100%. As someone who has done a Masters and toyed with the idea of a career in academia, I can tell you that one of the most daunting things about writing a thesis was trying to emulate the academic style and diction of other academics in the field. It doesn't matter if you have the most logical and well thought out argument to put forward, with scad loads of evidence and sources, if you can't present it in a manner that lends it credibility amongst your academic peers. Those people to whom formal/academic writing comes easily are usually the very well spoken, public school educated high fliers, which is why certain subjects (esp literary oens) are still incredibly elitist.
  22. sunwave
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    sunwave Member

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    Hm... I would agree that it sometimes is fine to use "but" at the beginning of a sentence, but I don't like it very much. Most of the examples in this thread annoy me very much. There are special circumstances in which case I do not find fault. For example, if there is a 'sudden' other side to the story. Like this:

    She was very good, and even set a good time. It seemed as if she would be a good candidate. But then again, she was very inexperienced.

    If i'm looking at your first post, you say:
    ...ve sentences that break this rule. But I'm still not sure w...
    Personally, I would change this to:
    ...ve sentences that break this rule, but I'm still not sure w...

    Same goes for nearly all buts in this thread.
    This is, of course, just my personal preference. I think most people here would label me as a grammar nazi anyway, so don't take this too seriously. =D
  23. wingerjeff1
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    wingerjeff1 New Member

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    'cringes looking at a sentence starting with 'but'
    Rather than ask if this is acceptable which it isn't, just write the sentence in a different way to not start with but.
  24. marcuslam
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    marcuslam New Member

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    Thanks for the further replies :).

    Haha, well, I was just fooling around with that first post ;).
  25. PeterC
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    PeterC Member

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    Good formal writing should be both precise and clear. Jargon should only be used when it forwards those goals. It's true that some authors of such documents like to throw around jargon to show off but I regard that a sign of poor quality formal writing.

    There is definitely a trade off between precision and ease of reading. It is possible to have both but it's also very difficult. In extreme cases no natural language is precise enough and one must resort to purely mathematical methods of specification. The result is very accurate but also virtually impossible for non-experts to understand.

    English, or any natural language, has awesome expressivity. It is also awesomely ambiguous. Yet it's that ambiguity that gives rise to humor, poetry, and literature. We want that. However, when specifying a safety critical system where people's lives are at stake, the flexibility of English---even formal English---gets in the way.
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