Can I start a sentence with but? Most of us were probably told by a high school English teacher to never start a sentence with “but” or any of the seven coordinating conjunctions. While there are some instances when your writing should be formal, like in business writing, and beginning a sentence with this three-letter word is frowned upon, for the most part, it’s just fine.
You can break up a long sentence that is separated by a comma and joined by one of the coordinating conjunctions, and instead, write two sentences. The second sentence would start with the coordinating conjunction. Such as “but.” This article will explain further.
How to Use But in a Sentence
“But” is a coordinating conjunction that signifies a contrary of the first given thought or denotes an exception. To use “but” in a sentence, you should have two opposing ideas, events, or conditions. The below examples demonstrate how to use but in a sentence:
- He loves her, but he can’t find a way to show her.
- She is a brave woman, but she becomes a coward when dealing with some areas of her life.
- No one but Mary deserves the recognition.
In Examples 1 and 2, two opposing concepts are considered. The man in Example 1 has feelings towards a woman, yet the second part beginning with “but” implies that this man can’t express his emotions. In Example 2, the woman’s bravery has been highlighted, but the second thought as signaled by “but” accentuates that her cowardice sometimes arises. On the other hand, Example 3 shows an exception using the word “but.” The sentence conveys that only Mary deserves to receive an acknowledgment.
The supposed rule is never to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. However, as long as you aren’t writing something that is incredibly formal, it is perfectly acceptable to start sentences with “but” or any other conjunction like it.
As long as you can create a full and complete idea, beginning a sentence with “but” won’t result in a sentence fragment. The word is perfectly fine to start with, as long as it can form one sentence that is complete and makes sense. Even an associate professor from Rutgers University in New Jersey has stated that the old rule is outdated and no longer observed. In fact, if you have too many independent clauses, it is recommended that you break it up, which will result in the last sentence beginning with a word like “but.”
No Longer Grammatically Wrong
Great writing occurs in all forms, including informal styles. The English language changes its rules from time to time. Whereas it used to be taught that starting sentences with a conjunction was never okay unless you were doing so with conjunctive adverbs.
The following are two examples of sentences starting with the word “but.”
We were going to go to the park this afternoon. But it snowed. So now we’re going to the bowling alley.
I’ve had a crush on Nathan since the second grade. But he doesn’t notice me. Maybe I’ll move on one day, but that day isn’t today.
All Writers Do It
Some of the greatest writers today begin a sentence regularly with a conjunction. They are only words, and as long as they make sense in the paragraph and in the story, then they’re fine. Examples of this are in many bestselling novels. Students would do well to remember this fact when they question the changed answer to whether they can begin a sentence with that controversial word.
Schools used to place a lot of emphasis on the way you were supposed to start a sentence, and some people graduated high school decades ago who can no longer tell you exactly what a conjunction is. Still, they know for sure that starting a sentence with one of those words is a bad idea. This was such a stressed point in many English classes that it’s challenging to reteach it.
Can You Start a Paragraph with But?
In general, there is no issue beginning a paragraph with but. The instructions and writing rules taught by schools and teachers has loosened over time. However, despite “but” being acceptable to start a paragraph, it is important to reflect on who you are addressing. Some people still lean to the conventions created so long ago. So, even if “but” at the beginning of the paragraph is correctly used, it may be perceived by some as informal. Therefore, have discretion when assessing whether to utilize it or not, when it comes to your written piece’s context, audience, or genre.
Reteach Yourself Through Practice
As long as you have found a useful way to start a sentence with a word you were taught was only meant to function as a way to connect clauses and phrases, then you’ll soon get in the habit of expanding the vocabulary you allow yourself to begin sentences with. On the other hand, beginning with “but” too often, while correct, will appear messy.
If you have decided that no matter what, the word “but” is only meant to link two phrases, you need only look to the Bible. There are several examples of sentences starting with this conjunction, such as, “But God remembered Noah…”
As long as your story makes sense, the reader won’t care. It’s often the writer who gets hung up on old rules they were taught.
Now, however, if your first sentence is too long and has too many clauses, it’s encouraged to break them up. Things change, which is why style guides are updated all the time. Starting sentences with the word “but” is no longer frowned upon and is no longer considered bad grammar.