Grammar Wednesday


I have a number of pet peeves, so I’m going to work though them one at a time.  Today, you’re going to get the “coordinating conjunction starting a sentence”  peeve.

A coordinating conjunction is a word that connects a word, phrase, or clause to another.  Anyone remember Conjunction Junction?  Yeah – that; coordinating conjunctions are the words that put ideas together; For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So – FANBOYS.

These words are not, however, words to start new ideas, and here’s where we get into trouble.  Except when writing dialogue (or in very casual writing situations), it’s not okay to start a sentence with any of the FANBOYS; doing so almost always results in a sentence fragment.  Observe:

But it was because I was hungry.

And then she left.

So I kicked her.

Do these things work in creative writing?  Yes; in fact, I love to use, “and ANOTHER thing…!” but it is almost impossible to make a complete sentence that begins with a FANBOYS word because the coordinating conjunction tells you that there’s another idea that needs to come before this one.

So don’t do it.

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Filed under funniness, General Griping, Grammar

8 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. M

    OK, I don’t teach grammar, so I got really excited about this and shared it with B, who teaches Freshmen, and he just looked at me and said, “Uh, yeah, that’s how you teach coordinating conjunctions”. Oh.

  2. Danny

    Gah! This is one of those things that us linguists (actually, I probably shouldn’t call myself a linguist – make it ‘us people trained in linguistics) hate: everyone thinks this is a ‘rule’, but it’s actually just the way English works, and practically nobody objects when it happens in real life…

    I realise it’s perfectly possible to accept it as a rule if you really want to, or to write this way in order to make an audience who believes in that rule happy, but we can’t just go about declaring extra rules in a language all willy-nilly! See:

    for plenty of examples.

    This one belongs in the same category as saying split infinitives are bad, to my mind…

  3. I agree with the above. You can start plenty of perfectly good sentences with And and But. Example:
    In addition to this, the student who was writing never felt that putting a conjunction at the start of the sentence was wrong. But, the teacher dictated that she must change her writing to fit into a whole new set of rules.

    You could also use However, but, But means the same thing.

  4. Danny, YAY! I used to have a couple of linguists who would come and comment here, but I don’t know if they’re still around. I LOVE having a linguist’s point of view on this stuff, because I only see it from my English teacher angle!

    Is it a RULE? No; I said that I also know there are a number of places where starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction works, and where I do it myself. I do teach the convention, however, that in formal writing – that is, writing for academic settings or writing that is intended to impress – it’s best to avoid the coordinating conjunction as a sentence-starter. In your examples, LearningAdventure, I teach my kids to use the semicolon.

  5. Danny

    I’ll see what I can do! Although I’m fairly rusty – that last time I had to deal with syntax was 3 years ago.

    I know (and like!) what you say about creative writing (although, gee, I hate that term – what is is about writing in a more formal tone that isn’t creative?!), but I think you’d find no end of examples in excellent formal writing that go against what you say in:

    ” Except when writing dialogue (or in very casual writing situations), it’s not okay to start a sentence with any of the FANBOYS; doing so almost always results in a sentence fragment”

  6. Yay for Grammar Wednesday! I’m glad it’s back.

    Mrs. Chili, I found this link and thought you might be interested.

  7. needsatimeout

    I also found a couple links that I thought you would like. I feel so weird thinking oh my gosh Mrs.Chili someone I have never met would love this website. It has text as well as audio. funny comics dealing with life as well as grammar
    Enjoy !

  8. I love you guys (also? I LOVE the Oatmeal!). Just because you’ve never seen my face doesn’t mean you haven’t met me, though. Through my blogs, I’ve been genuine friends with people I’ve never been in the same room with; it’s the connection of intellect and spirit that joins us.

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