California Teacher Guy – a great and enthusiastic supporter of Grammar Wednesdays here at A Teacher’s Education – has sent me another sticky grammar question mined from the vast and seemingly unfathomable depths of the internet’s wells:
Here’s one for you, Mrs. Chili. Dissect this sentence that I found in a comment box somewhere:
“But for the sake of the almighty test scores, I have had to forsake teaching my kiddies the nuances of prepositions in lieu of teaching them how to write to a prompt.”
Good luck! I’ll be watching for your wise and witty rewrite of this sentence!
CTG, I hope you didn’t mean for me to DIAGRAM that sentence because, as you should well know by now, I don’t roll that way.
I THINK the problem that we’re having with this sentence – because MY first reaction to it was the same as yours: huh?! – is the “But” opening. This, Class, is why Mrs. Chili HATES when people start sentences with coordinating conjunctions.
Coordinating conjunctions – and, but, or, therefore, however, and the like – are words that are intended to (sing it with me now) hook up words, phrases and clauses.
They are NOT especially great at starting sentences because they indicate that there is something else that goes with whatever comes after it:
I would have been there on time, but I couldn’t find my left shoe.
Jonah had the calamari and regretted it for a full 24 hours later.
You could hang with your homies, or you could go home and do your damned homework; the choice is yours.
Of course, there are times when even I think it’s okay to start a sentence with a conjunction: sometimes – though not often anymore in modern speech – “but” is used to mean “if not:”
But for the keen eye of my daughter, I’d have put a cup of salt in the cake instead of a cup of sugar.
We usually hear things like ‘there but for the grace of God go I” or “were it not for his quick thinking, all would have been lost,” so the “but” at the beginning of sentences isn’t as common as a lot of people might think it is. (I tend to want to start some sentences with “and” – “And another thing…” for example – but that’s ONLY in casual writing and only when I’m continuing my or someone else’s thoughts…)
MY guess about this sentence – and CTG didn’t give me a link to see in which comment box he’d seen it published, so I’m making this up out of thin air – is that the writer was continuing a thought and put a period after the first part of that thought instead of a comma; something along the lines of:
“I had a lot of really fascinating lesson plans that would have shown my students just how beautiful and subtle language can be but, for the sake of the almighty test scores, I have had to forsake teaching my kiddies the nuances of prepositions in lieu of teaching them how to write to a prompt.”
That’s the best I’ve got…