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Proofreading Tips: Can You Start a Sentence with a Conjunction?

As a proofreader, you need to be able to spot and fix grammatical errors. You may have been taught that starting a sentence with a conjunction is one of these errors, but this is in fact a common grammar myth! In this post, we’ll explain what a coordinating conjunction is and why you probably don’t need to correct sentences that start with them.

What Is a Coordinating Conjunction?

There are seven coordinating conjunctions in English. If you struggle to remember what they are, it can help to think of them as the acronym FANBOYS:

For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So

But how do these words work? Simply put, coordinating conjunctions are connecting words. They are typically used to join words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence. For example:

Bob and Shelly went to the beach.

He is not only handsome but also clever.

She hated dogs, yet they always seemed to like her.

You’ll notice, though, that all of these examples use conjunctions to link words, phrases, or clauses within a sentence. This is how coordinating conjunctions work most commonly. However, it is also possible to use them to show a connection between sentences.

Can You Start a Sentence with a Coordinating Conjunction?

At school, many people learn not to start sentences with conjunctions. This is because children may overuse coordinating conjunctions (e.g., starting every sentence in a story with “and”). But there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing so – as you can see from this sentence!

In fact, all major style guides permit starting a sentence with a conjunction.

The key factor here is that, as shown above, coordinating conjunctions can be used to link independent clauses. An independent clause is one that will work as a sentence by itself. For example, we could present both clauses from the example above separately as follows:

She hated dogs. They always seemed to like her.

However, conjunctions help to tell us about the relationships between clauses (e.g., “but” implies a contrast and “so” often implies a relationship of causation). Thus, by starting the second sentence here with a conjunction, we can clarify how the two sentences are related.

She hated dogs. But they always seemed to like her.

The next question, then, is why you would do this rather than create a compound sentence with two independent clauses? Ultimately, this is a matter of preference. But starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction can serve a few purposes. Most notably:

  • Changing the pace of a passage of text (since a period typically creates a longer pause than a comma, allowing writers to create tension or present a sentence as an afterthought).
  • Breaking up long or complex sentences to boost readability.

Of course, opening too many sentences with coordinating conjunctions can be distracting (partly because, as mentioned above, it may sound unintentionally childlike).

If your client overuses this sentence structure, then, you should suggest edits to help them to add more variety to their writing. But unless it affects a document’s clarity, there’s usually no need to correct a sentence that starts with a conjunction.

Can You Start a Sentence with a Subordinating Conjunction?

Another common type of conjunction is the subordinating conjunction (e.g., “because,” “although,” “if”). These are used to connect an independent clause to a dependent clause in a complex sentence. For example, we could say:

I use a proofreading service because I care about good writing.

Here, the independent clause is “I use a proofreading service.” This is followed by the dependent clause “because I care about good writing,” which adds information about the main clause but wouldn’t work as a standalone sentence (i.e., since “because” is a subordinating conjunction, the clause “depends” on the main clause to make sense).

It is possible to reverse the order of the clauses in such sentences so that they start with a subordinating conjunction. If doing this, we would add a comma before the main clause:

Because I care about good writing, I use a proofreading service.

However, unlike in a compound sentence, we can’t separate the clauses in a complex sentence. Doing so would leave the dependent clause as a sentence fragment:

I use a proofreading service. Because I care about good writing.

Because I care about good writing. I use a proofreading service.

This might be acceptable in some forms of creative writing (e.g., perhaps the author is presenting the dependent clause as an afterthought). But in most cases, presenting a dependent clause separate from the main clause it supplements would be a grammatical error (i.e., the sentence wouldn’t express a complete thought). It is therefore something that you would usually correct as a proofreader, so keep an eye out for this error in documents!

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