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Every elementary school student is taught never to start a sentence with but. But why? Teachers of young students often warn against beginning with but or and simply as a way of avoiding a verbal crutch. All mature writers develop an instinct for what tone they’re going for, who their audience is, and what kind of style their content demands. But there’s no universal rule against starting a sentence with the word “but.” This is part of a complete episode.
But at the beginning of a sentence can sometimes be permitted on grounds of syntax (But for his habit of whistling Mozart tunes, Michael might easily be assumed to have no culture at all). And one may certainly cut some slack for a writer who begins a sentence with a conjunction when the argument can be made that the new sentence builds upon something earlier (as is this case in this very sentence and the one that follows).
But then there’s the problem of an entire work that begins with a conjunction. About three years ago, I put together a playlist of YouTube videos for a fun online contest and asked the players to find out what they had in common. I see that one of the clips has since been removed, but here’s the sequence:
- Jerusalem, sung by Mary Hopkin
- Walk Away RenÃ©e by the Left Banke (sung by a trio of animated Minis against a background of Stonehenge)
- My Way, the Paul Anka song associated with Frank Sinatra, as sung by Sid Vicious
- a live version of Mrs Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel
- Signs, by the Five Man Electrical Band
- Aubrey, by Bread
- Divorce Song, by Liz Phair
- a live concert performance of Walk On, by U2
The connection, of course, was that the lyrics of all eight songs begin with the word and.