Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ArielleCeleste, Aug 12, 2009.
Is it an error to start a sentence with but?
What are some alternatives?
Doing it occasionally isn't such a horrible sin. Don't overdo it, that's all. It'ts dangerous to always enter "but" first.
I find that in dialogue it's not that bad but (lol) in the actual writing of a story I find I over use it a little and I can't think of any alternatives off the top of my head.
There isn't really an alternative to "but". Its one of those words where if you need to use it, you need to use it.
Drat. I suffer from severe OCD so when I see 1000 but's in my stories I go bananas. However, although and all those just don't fit.
If there are a thousand of them, then I'd say you're overusing it. It's not a matter of finding a different word to use, but crafting sentences better. Look at books you have that you really love. Study how the authors crafted their sentences, how they created the flow of one paragraph to another.
it's ok to start a sentence, if it's done well... it's not ok, if it isn't!
I'm with Marina, if there are that many "but" sentences, its probably a more general problem with the way you are putting sentences together. Read read read, study study study.
China Mieville begins many sentences with "but" and uses "but" frequently. In fact, in Perdidio Street Station, he uses "but" 1086 times, which amounts to about 1.6 times per page. He is considered to be a literary writer, BTW.
There are alternatives to using but. You can use, though, although, even though, despite, whereas, while, on the contary, etc.
You can also rethink the information in the adversative clause and think of another way to write it.
One alternative is using a summative or a resumtive modifier. Furthermore, The more you train your brain in other patterns, the less you will use adversative clauses or sentences.
Because I always prefer examples, I will show a few. I hope anything I've said helps.
He had walked out of the university ten years ago. But only because he realized to his misery that he was a terrible teacher. - Perdidio Street Station
The first example is using a summative modifier, which doesn't work well in this sentence.
He had walked out of the university ten years ago, a decision he only made because he realized to his misery that he was a terrible teacher.
Because one thing happens before another, we could use a sequential clause.
When he had walked out of the university ten years ago, it was only because he realized to his misery that he was a terrible teacher.
Isaac could be brilliant, but he was undisciplined. - Perdidio Street Station
Even though Isaac could be brilliant, he was undisciplined.
You could consider using "although" and "though" too.
Despite that Isaac could be brilliant, he was undisciplined.
Despite Isaac's brilliants, he was undisciplined.
The next rewrite, is only to show that you can use a resumtive modifier; although, in this example it's not the best.
Isaac could be brilliant, an undisciplined brilliance that often led him into troubles.
Jill likes vanilla, but jack likes chocolate.
Jill likes vanilla, whereas jack likes chocolate.
I'm going to try and see if i can meld some of my sentences together that way architectus. I might end up having a completely different story in the end, though XD
Thanks for the advice everyone!
Archi's examples are grammatically right, but be aware that they will/do read differently to 'but' (which I guess is what you want...). I guess just be aware of how they change the tone, the characterisation, things like that.
Great post, Arch. However, I think you missed. . . however.
Architectus is right, of course. Although the meanings are different, another alternative for "but" that might be considered is "and."
Jill likes vanilla, and Jack likes chocolate.
Using "and" could change the meaning of the sentence somewhat, and that might be okay.
I actually learned this in an work-related seminar. In a workplace environment, "and" is considered less confrontational than "but."
So in a work e-mail, it's considered better to write:
"Amy believes we should go with Solution X, and Dave suggested we go with Solution Y."
Than it is to write:
"Amy believes we should go with Solution X, but Dave suggested we go with Solution Y."
The latter sentence is considered more confrontational.
This, of course, says very little for creative writing. This suggestion was made for office writing, and it can be considered as an alternative in other forms of writing as well. (I might have said, "This suggestion was made for office writing, but it can be considered as an alternative...")
I thought about mentioning it. However, I left it out because I don't like "however" in fiction. I rarely use it in my stories.
Traditionally, beginning a sentence with "but" has been discouraged in formal writing except in a construct such as "But for..." (e.g. "But for that catch, the Patriots would have won the Superbowl"). Opposition to the use you mention has waned over the last few decades.
Incidentally, much the same is true in regards to beginning a sentence with "And".
^ The "don't begin sentences with conjunctions" rule has been effectively thrown out in fiction, but I would advise against it in formal writing. Due to its effect on style and emphasis, it is useful in fiction, but in formal writing where clarity is paramount, you want to do as little as possible to confuse your reader (at least not with your grammar).
I decided to google the rule. I found this:
The moral is:
You can lead with your "but" if you've thought it through.
It's a split opinion, though.
Pun intended, I take it?
Separate names with a comma.