Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

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umichgrad
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby umichgrad » Fri Apr 02, 2010 11:33 am

SôngHươngNúiNgự wrote:Criticize the suggestion, not the man. If you don't think my suggestion carries credibility, so be it.



I'm not criticizing, I'm asking. I'm asking because too often on this forum people give advice that they are unqualified to give. I feel qualified to answer the OP on this topic, as I teach English grammar and writing. If, however, you were a published writer (or something of the sort), I would have offered to the OP that both of our answers could be correct.

I would caution the OP to solicit advice carefully, and synthesize the advice you receive in order to form your own conclusions.

YEM
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby YEM » Fri Apr 02, 2010 11:34 am

umichgrad wrote: ... please ensure that your usage increases the clarity of your writing.


This. Good writing is clear and concise. For personal statements, double-down on the clarity and brevity. Learn to use language well, and you may use much less of it. (This is especially relevant for word-limited application requirements.)

To the And/But beginning-the-sentence question: it's not incorrect, but it may be inadvisable for the simple fact that the admissions process is not about acceptance. It is about elimination. And if you get the wrong adcomm on the wrong day with a burr in his saddle and an elementary grasp of grammar and composition, you might get yourself dinged from your first choice because he's a semi-literate half-wit with a chip on his shoulder just looking for a reason to say "No."

For that reason, I would avoid beginning sentences with "and" or "but," ending sentences with prepositions, or including self-righteous, semi-heroic tales of your summer trek through Guatemala in your Personal Statement.

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clevinger33
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby clevinger33 » Fri Apr 02, 2010 11:38 am

YEM wrote:
umichgrad wrote: ... please ensure that your usage increases the clarity of your writing.

To the And/But beginning-the-sentence question: it's not incorrect, but it may be inadvisable for the simple fact that the admissions process is not about acceptance. It is about elimination. And if you get the wrong adcomm on the wrong day with a burr in his saddle and an elementary grasp of grammar and composition, you might get yourself dinged from your first choice because he's a semi-literate half-wit with a chip on his shoulder just looking for a reason to say "No."

For that reason, I would avoid beginning sentences with "and" or "but," ending sentences with prepositions, or including self-righteous, semi-heroic tales of your summer trek through Guatemala in your Personal Statement.


I think this is the correct advice for personal statements/admissions essays. I have no problem with beginning sentences with but/and, but you don't want to run the risk of coming across an adcomm that does.

umichgrad
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby umichgrad » Fri Apr 02, 2010 11:42 am

clevinger33 wrote:
YEM wrote:
umichgrad wrote: ... please ensure that your usage increases the clarity of your writing.

To the And/But beginning-the-sentence question: it's not incorrect, but it may be inadvisable for the simple fact that the admissions process is not about acceptance. It is about elimination. And if you get the wrong adcomm on the wrong day with a burr in his saddle and an elementary grasp of grammar and composition, you might get yourself dinged from your first choice because he's a semi-literate half-wit with a chip on his shoulder just looking for a reason to say "No."

For that reason, I would avoid beginning sentences with "and" or "but," ending sentences with prepositions, or including self-righteous, semi-heroic tales of your summer trek through Guatemala in your Personal Statement.


I think this is the correct advice for personal statements/admissions essays. I have no problem with beginning sentences with but/and, but you don't want to run the risk of coming across an adcomm that does.


Completely agreed. Use it if you must, but use it to further the meaning of your sentence, and better to avoid it entirely.

tesseract0421
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby tesseract0421 » Fri Apr 02, 2010 11:51 am

I think people should avoid but/and...not that it's gramatically incorrect, but because there are stronger words. "But" = "However"..."And" = "In addition,"

notanumber
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby notanumber » Fri Apr 02, 2010 11:57 am

YEM wrote: Good writing is clear and concise.


This is only true in certain contexts. Good literature is not necessarily concise and good poetry is not necessarily clear.

Edit: I should add that all the OP's admission documents should be both clear and concise. Writing your personal statement in a Proustian voice is a fantastic way to ensure that your application sails directly towards the trashcan.
Last edited by notanumber on Fri Apr 02, 2010 6:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

270910
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby 270910 » Fri Apr 02, 2010 12:12 pm

Here's the thing: You need to learn the rules so that you can break them properly.

Starting a sentence with the word but can be done with great style. It tends to introduce a dramatic pause and shift in inflection. So if it's done carelessly, it will look terrible. Rather than a blanket prohibition - which would be a good thing to pick up when learning the basics - think of it as a cautionary note.

YEM
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby YEM » Fri Apr 02, 2010 1:35 pm

notanumber wrote:
YEM wrote: Good writing is clear and concise.


This is only true in certain contexts. Good literature is not necessarily concise and good poetry is not necessarily clear...



Indeed. Please allow this revision:

Effective non-fiction prose intended to convince or convey meaning must be clear and concise.

Better?

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skynet
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby skynet » Fri Apr 02, 2010 1:45 pm

The reason for the grade-school prohibition is that it helps kids begin to avoid composing fragmentary sentences. Unfortunately many of us memorize the rule without ever learning its purpose, so dogmatically (and unnecessarily) adhere to it.

The only stylistic concern with them is brevity.

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JTX
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby JTX » Fri Apr 02, 2010 1:49 pm

YEM wrote:
notanumber wrote:
YEM wrote: Good writing is clear and concise.


This is only true in certain contexts. Good literature is not necessarily concise and good poetry is not necessarily clear...



Indeed. Please allow this revision:

Effective non-fiction prose intended to convince or convey meaning must be clear and concise.

Better?


the best writing is
clear, concise, with good grammar,
but never boring.

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clevinger33
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby clevinger33 » Fri Apr 02, 2010 1:57 pm

jtxcounitah wrote:
YEM wrote:
notanumber wrote:
YEM wrote: Good writing is clear and concise.


This is only true in certain contexts. Good literature is not necessarily concise and good poetry is not necessarily clear...



Indeed. Please allow this revision:

Effective non-fiction prose intended to convince or convey meaning must be clear and concise.

Better?


the best writing is
clear, concise, with good grammar,
but never boring.


Haikus are the worse.

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FunkyJD
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby FunkyJD » Fri Apr 02, 2010 1:58 pm

What if I start a sentence with "butt"? Is that good?

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JTX
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby JTX » Fri Apr 02, 2010 2:02 pm

x
Last edited by JTX on Wed Jun 02, 2010 1:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

lawschooliseasy
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby lawschooliseasy » Fri Apr 02, 2010 2:04 pm

whitman wrote:Once you can write well you can do whatever the fuck you want. A good writer has the confidence to break grade school rules.


+1

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RickyRoe
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby RickyRoe » Fri Apr 02, 2010 2:41 pm

The movie Finding Forrester addresses this issue:

Forrester: Paragraph three starts...with a conjunction, "and." You should never start a sentence with a conjunction.
Jamal: Sure you can.
Forrester: No, it's a firm rule.
Jamal: No, it was a firm rule. Sometimes using a conjunction at the start of a sentence makes it stand out. And that may be what the writer's trying to do.
Forrester: And what is the risk?
Jamal: Well the risk is doing it too much. It's a distraction. And it could give your piece a run-on feeling. But for the most part, the rule on using "and" or "but" at the start of a sentence is pretty shaky. Even though it's still taught by too many professors. Some of the best writers have ignored that rule for years, including you.

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FunkyJD
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby FunkyJD » Fri Apr 02, 2010 2:46 pm

skynet wrote:The reason for the grade-school prohibition is that it helps kids begin to avoid composing fragmentary sentences. Unfortunately many of us memorize the rule without ever learning its purpose, so dogmatically (and unnecessarily) adhere to it.

+1

Peggy Noonan is a fine writer, no? Here's a recent column of hers that's relevant to this subject:

http://online.wsj.com/article/declarations.html

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onthecusp
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby onthecusp » Fri Apr 02, 2010 2:48 pm

kswiss wrote:I think there is a legitimate concern because I find myself second guessing myself every time I do it. But sometimes there is no clearer way to say something.

If some adcomm is going to take offense to breaking a grade school rule, then....then....

I dunno.


There's always a clearer way to say anything. And good writers don't allow their readers to dwell on semantics.

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ggocat
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby ggocat » Fri Apr 02, 2010 2:49 pm

FunkyJD wrote:It's kosher in Chicago Style. Good enough for me.

+1.

And Garner provides a useful explanation of when but is appropriate for starting a sentence:
Still, but as an adversative conjunction can occasionally be unclear at the beginning of a sentence. Evaluate the contrasting force of the but in question and see whether the needed word is really and; if and can be substituted, then but is almost certainly the wrong word. Consider this example: He went to school this morning. But he left his lunchbox on the kitchen table. Between those sentences is an elliptical idea, since the two actions are in no way contradictory. What is implied is something like this: He went to school, intending to have lunch there, but he left his lunch behind. Because and would have made sense in the passage as originally stated, but is not the right word. To sum up, then, but is a perfectly proper way to open a sentence, but only if the idea it introduces truly contrasts with what precedes it.

Chicago Manual of Style 5.191.

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skynet
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby skynet » Fri Apr 02, 2010 3:15 pm

FunkyJD wrote:
skynet wrote:The reason for the grade-school prohibition is that it helps kids begin to avoid composing fragmentary sentences. Unfortunately many of us memorize the rule without ever learning its purpose, so dogmatically (and unnecessarily) adhere to it.

+1

Peggy Noonan is a fine writer, no? Here's a recent column of hers that's relevant to this subject:

http://online.wsj.com/article/declarations.html
Thanks for the +1, which is appreciated in the spirit in which it was offered.

Just to clarify, though, my remarks were in no way meant to support the continued existence of Peggy Noonan's writing career.

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FunkyJD
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby FunkyJD » Fri Apr 02, 2010 3:22 pm

skynet wrote:Just to clarify, though, my remarks were in no way meant to support the continued existence of Peggy Noonan's writing career.

Now, now ... regardless of her politics, she's a talented writer.

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skynet
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby skynet » Fri Apr 02, 2010 3:24 pm

FunkyJD wrote:
skynet wrote:Just to clarify, though, my remarks were in no way meant to support the continued existence of Peggy Noonan's writing career.

Now, now ... regardless of her politics, she's a talented writer.

I'm sure I could not do her job better than she can, but, as a matter of taste, I really dislike her writing style.

notanumber
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby notanumber » Fri Apr 02, 2010 4:26 pm

I just re-read my Yale 250 essay. I started 2 of my sentences with "but," including my final sentence. I wrote that way to make the sentences punchy and highlight transitionary thoughts. Seems to have worked.

notanumber
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby notanumber » Fri Apr 02, 2010 4:29 pm

FunkyJD wrote:
skynet wrote:Just to clarify, though, my remarks were in no way meant to support the continued existence of Peggy Noonan's writing career.

Now, now ... regardless of her politics, she's a talented writer.


The only thing I enjoy about Peggy Noonan is the running Wonkette gag. Safire was the true conservative grammarian.

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kswiss
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby kswiss » Fri Apr 02, 2010 5:50 pm

Don't sacrifice style at the alter of brevity. Like some above posters said, it is a stylistic choice employed by writers who know what they are doing. Used correctly, a short sentence beginning with "but" can take a piece of writing on a hard right turn, which is good for keeping interest and breaking up monotonous sentences. But do what you feel is prudent.

BTW, I think we all remember the first couple semesters in college dealing with the cognitive dissonance of reading highly praised academic writing that broke "the rules." They weren't just in fiction or flowery writing either, but in hard science journals. A good writer stands out regardless of the subject matter.

Those rules are there for a good reason, and if you don't know why you are breaking it, then you are doing it wrong. I highly doubt that an adcomm would be so elementary as to actually point out 3rd grade grammar errors. The best defense against that would be to write in a way that shows your apparent command of the English language, and they would know that you are doing it for effect. If your paper is littered with grammatical errors, they might see it as a mistake.

njskatchmo
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Re: Beginning a sentence with "but" or "and?"

Postby njskatchmo » Fri Apr 02, 2010 5:52 pm

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Last edited by njskatchmo on Sun Oct 18, 2015 12:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.




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