If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Beginning sentences with conjunctions

Is it okay to begin a sentence with a conjunction like "but" or "because"? Yes. David explains why.

Want to join the conversation?

  • leafers tree style avatar for user isaacwpeters0208
    my dad is completely against starting a sentence with a conjunction because he makes me write book reports and says that i cannot start a sentence with and, but, or so. he also says that the rest are terrible for starting sentences and he says the nor is too old of a word to be used and yet sounds stupid so i cant use it. i wanted to get back at him so i used for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so at least once in this comment >:D
    (47 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • female robot grace style avatar for user Walks on the Clouds
      It sounds as if your father is trying to pass along the rules of good writing as he learned them. You may want to invite him to watch this video, so that he may see for himself that the "rules" are now less strict.
      Beginning a sentence with a conjunction can be a great way to add dramatic impact to writing. Starting a sentence with a conjunction can also add a nice "naturalistic" feel to more informal writing.
      BUT you will probably benefit a great deal from learning your father's rules, as well. There are many occasions today that call for a more formal approach in communication. If I were writing an essay for a scholarship competition, for instance, I would certainly try to follow your father's rules, because I think it would be prudent to be more formal in that case. Also, learning your father's rules might help you to not make the common mistake of over-using the device of beginning a sentence with a conjunction.
      To sum up: it's good to learn both options, and to use them as you see fit to help you become a more effective writer!
      (54 votes)
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user monster of the furnace
    what words are conjunctions
    (12 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • starky sapling style avatar for user Zoey
    Ok ok ok, but here's a question I've had since 4th grade: If sentence fragments are used in natural speech, why aren't they grammatically correct or socially acceptable in certain situations? I get that David is talking about formal writing here, but can they be used in formal writing? I'm a 10th grader, so say I want to add some flavor to my World History presentation. Normally, presentations are formal, but I'd be addressing my peers and my teacher as my audience. Now, I'm totally okay with the rules of formal writing, but I'm a bit of a creative writer, so I find it to be important to have some variety in my writing. (And yes, I'm actually writing a World History presentation, and having my question answered would help a ton, not just for my presentation.)
    (8 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Write it twice. Once for presentation in print, and once as a script for oral delivery. You will thereby complete the "can this student write" part of the exercise and also the "can this student give an interesting presentation" part of it.

      As a professional, I evaluated graduating preachers' sermons at a college in Taiwan. The worst ones were read off of the page. They may have been better reasoned, but they were dead, Dead, DEAD!
      (22 votes)
  • primosaur seedling style avatar for user catriely13
    So u can seriously start a sentence with a conjunction? Wait till i tell my mom about this one! Does Neither...nor count too?
    (14 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leafers sapling style avatar for user celine.myoung.237
    Is "However" considered a conjuction?
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • female robot amelia style avatar for user Johanna
      “However” is actually an adverb.

      Edits courtesy of EndLifeImprisonment:

      However can be either an adverb or a conjunction.

      It’s an adverb (specifically a conjunctive adverb) in sentences like: “The ozone hole was a real problem; however, it’s actually started returning to its original state.”

      It’s a subordinating conjunction in sentences like: “I’ll eat ice cream however it’s made.”
      (11 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Marion
    I have seen this in books. I have always been confused because I learned that you can't start a sentence with "but". So can I, a 7 grader, use "but" in the beginning of a sentence; and would it be a complete sentence🫥
    (9 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • female robot ada style avatar for user tee-jay ade__Army_Stay
    honestly, in primary school, if i start an answer with "because" my teacher will legit mark me down, saying it is incorrect. but, i think that one is different, though
    (11 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user lkmatthiesen1994
    this is so help full i have been told for 11 years that you cant use and or any conjunction
    (8 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • starky sapling style avatar for user Em <3
    Is it okay to start a sentence with and?
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • duskpin tree style avatar for user hufkiegerrard
    I like david when he is funny in the vids
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hey grammarians. Some of you may have been raised like me, with the superstition that it wasn't okay to start a sentence with a conjunction. Like for, or and, or nor, or but. But I'm here to tell you, not to bury the lead, totally fine. Like, you may do this. There is nothing ungrammatical about this construction. Let me show you what I mean and what sort of sentences have historically been regarded, by some people, as unacceptable. So let's start by looking at this two sentence paragraph. "Ginny looked at the painting suspiciously. But, as she turned away, she didn't see it look at her." Or, just starting something on its own, without connecting it to, you know, you can start a paragraph with it like, "But the question remains, what is art?" There's this, there's this superstition that says that you can't begin sentences with conjunctions, that it's ungrammatical or weak writing, and I don't think either of these things are true. In fact, I think is a conflation, or a confusion of a couple separate issues in writing. But sometimes you wanna punctuate a sentence by beginning with a conjunction. There's a kind of dramatic tension you can access by beginning a sentence like that, kind of unexpectedly leaping into action. What I like about sentence initial "But" here is that it kind of, you think the sentence is over, and it is, but then this other thing happens, and putting it after a piece of terminal punctuation like a period really serves to bring into sharp relief whatever it is you're trying to say after the "But." I think this an awfully useful technique, and I'm not alone. Brian Garner, the author of the usage manual that I use most of the time, Garner's Modern American Usage, says that about 9% of sentences by, what he calls, first-rate writers begin with "and," "but" and "so" or other words in the FANBOYS mnenomic, if you remember FANBOYS. And that's "for," "and," "nor," "but," "or," "yet," "so." And then those are the coordinating conjunctions. And it's not just Garner, 'cause that's a relatively recent publication, but we're talking about language authorities going back to like, Anglo-Saxon times?! I've never had a problem with starting sentences with conjunctions. I think where the prohibition has traditionally come from, where this language superstition comes from, is a conflation with another problem. Let's get to that on the next screen. Alright, consider the following utterance. "Because I said so." Is this a sentence? No, actually this is what's called a sentence fragment. "Because I said so." is a dependent clause, it can't stand on its own in a sentence. "Because" is what we'd call a subordinating conjunction. So dependent clauses follow subordinating conjunctions, which means that they grant context, but they can't stand on their own as sentences. If you remember the analogy I used previously, an independent clause, you know, is like a tree. And, a subordinating conjunction marking a dependent clause is like a ladder leaning up against that tree. You can have the tree without the ladder, but without the tree to lean on, the ladder's not gonna stand up. Now it's totally fine to begin a sentence with "because," as long as it's attached to an independent clause. So, you know, you could say, "Because I told them to," comma, the goblins built me a sandcastle." Very nice, so the little goblins do that. So, I think because of that fear of just ending the sentence as "Because I told them to," of creating the sentence fragment, I think it's pretty easy to simplify all that down into just saying, oh, don't start sentences with conjunctions, just generally. So this is really less about how you start an utterance, and more about how you end it. If you're gonna start a sentence with a conjunction of any kind, you have to make sure that you're actually producing a sentence. So think about your follow through, is ultimately the take away here. If you start a sentence with a conjunction, make sure you're building towards some kind of independent clause. Now don't get me wrong, sentence fragments definitely have their place, but, not in formal writing. You would use this maybe for rhetorical effect, or, to approach a kind of realism in dialogue, but not in essay writing, not for the newspaper. I just wanna repeat, there's not really a rule against beginning sentences with a conjunction. It's a superstition, frankly. And in practice, the rule is generally ignored. So I read this paper from like 1994, or so, that analyzed the frequency of the word "but" in newspapers, and found that 60% of the time it was used at the beginnings of sentences. Which is way more often than certainly I expected! But it makes sense for that medium. It's punchy, it's dramatic. But, it gets a little stale if you use it too often, I think. But, again, you can absolutely begin sentences with conjunctions. It's just that if you start a sentence with a conjunction, you have to follow through, and actually make it a sentence. If you begin a sentence with a subordinating conjunction, you're writing a dependent clause that needs to be followed up by an independent clause, right? So if you're beginning with a subordinating clause, you're making the ladder and you need to follow it up with a tree to lean on. But if you begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, like one of the FANBOYS conjunctions, you're in good shape. Just try not to overuse it, as you'd avoid overusing anything. Moderation in all things! So, take away? Write full sentences, and put your best "but" forward. You can learn anything. David out.