Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

Telling It Straight

The truth is, it’s okay to start a sentence with the words “and” or “but”—if you do it correctly. After all, there is a time and place for everything, right?

First, let’s take a quick jump down memory lane to those Schoolhouse Rock! tapes you watched when the substitute teacher didn’t know the subject. Ever had the tune to “Conjunction Junction” stuck in your head for no apparent reason? You’re not alone.

However, after so many years, do you remember what the function of a conjunction really is? It might seem obvious—a conjunction connects two thoughts or ideas. “And” and “but” are called coordinating conjunctions and are a part of a much longer list of words.

There are seven coordinating conjunctions:

  • and
  • but
  • or
  • nor
  • for
  • so
  • yet

However, the ones we were specifically taught to avoid starting a sentence with are “and” and “but.” The good news is, you can rest easy knowing that there is no true grammar rule that says you can’t ever start a sentence with one of these conjunctions.

“Contrary to what your high school English teacher told you, there’s no reason not to begin a sentence with but or and; in fact, these words often make a sentence more forceful and graceful. They are almost always better than beginning with however or additionally.” — Professor Jack Lynch, Associate Professor of English, Rutgers University, New Jersey

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Topic sentence starters for essays

Topic sentences are like the sentence starters of an entire essay—they introduce what the paragraph or entire text is about so the readers know what to expect. 

  • This paper discusses . . .
  • In this paper . . .
  • Here, we discuss . . .
  • Below, you will find . . .

Paragraph Starters When Summarizing an Argument

When wrapping up an argument, it's crucial to keep the reader engaged all the way to the end. Use a phrase that flows naturally given your prior argument (and be sure you've thoroughly proven your point throughout your paper!)

Example: Using Transition Words to Conclude an Argument

Transitions to indicate the summary should be used when the following structure is implemented:

  • [transition], concluding idea/thesis statement.

For example:

  • In short, foxes are many different colors but are often portrayed as orange and red in films.
  • Broken down: In short, [transition] foxes are many different colors but are often portrayed as orange and red in films [concluding idea].

Use a wide variety of words to sum up the point you are making.

all in all

in brief

in short

that is (that is to say)

after all

in any event

in other words

on balance

all things considered

in conclusion

in brief

therefore

briefly

in essence

in summary

to put it differently

by and large

indeed

in the final analysis

to sum up

hence

on the whole

in the long run

to summarize

in any case

overall

namely

finally

lastly

once and for all

conclusively

at the end

Improving Your Writing Over Time

Just following my tips to add transition words to your essay can often make your essay much better and will probably improve your grade. Inevitably, as soon as I tell my classes about this technique their writing improves dramatically. Better yet, the more you practice placing transition words, the more you will use the technique when writing your first draft.

This technique trains you to think about how your ideas relate to one another. Transitions will help you write essays that are deeper, more connected, and logically sound. If you've found this technique helpful, or if you have another sentence starting techniques, please add your comments below to help out other writers.

Good sentence starters for introducing examples

Especially for essays, you want to use evidence to support your claims. Sentence starters ease the transition from explaining the big picture to showing those same ideas at work in the real world. 

  • For example . . .
  • For instance . . .
  • To illustrate . . .
  • Specifically . . .
  • We can see this in . . .
  • This is evidenced by . . .
  • Consider the [case/example] of . . .

Expressing Your Opinion

NEW! I hate to say this but…  – this i

NEW! I hate to say this but… – this is a perfect way of making it sound as if you don’t want to do and say what’s about to follow, but you really have no choice! “I HATE TO SAY THIS BUT I really have to go, sorry about that!”

NEW! Well, I’m very well aware that – if you’re ever in a situation when you have to make the point that you’re aware of something, this is a very good alternative to saying “Yes, I know that…” – “WELL, I’M VERY WELL AWARE THAT I could be sacked any moment, but I’m not afraid to speak my mind!”

NEW! To put it in perspective – personally I LOVE this phrase because it sounds really smart and intelligent, and it can be used in a wide variety of situations! The word “perspective” is used here to tell the other person that you’re going to explain the concept in a way that will make them understand exactly what you’re talking about: “The unemployment rates in our region are hitting an all-time-high! TO PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE, there’s a 50% unemployment among young people of 25 years of age and younger, so – there you go!”

NEW! If you think about it, you’ll realize that – sometimes you have to be very smart in the way you express your opinion, and this English sentence starter is just great to both express your opinion and object to the other person’s opinion! You’re not telling them they’re wrong, you’re merely stating the truth thus making it sounds as if the other person has also arrived to the same conclusion: “IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, YOU’LL REALIZE THAT our workload has almost doubled over the last couple of years while our wages have stayed the same!”

NEW! There’s no denying that – another perfect phrase to use when you want to express your opinion that might be somewhat different from the other person’s opinion: “THERE’S NO DENYING THAT the crime rates have dropped this year, but if you look into the statistics, you’ll realize that the figures have been heavily massaged.”

Actually, I’m fully aware of the fact that – this English sentence starter can be used in conversations when you have to stress the fact that you’re familiar with a particular fact or situation: “Why did you leave Jimmy at the workstation on his own? You could have asked someone whether he was fully trained or not?” – “ACTUALLY, I’M FULLY AWARE OF THE FACT THAT he’s not fully trained – but I could never have imagined that…”

I don’t want to sound like bragging, butthis is how you initiate your response when you have to tell about something related to your personal achievements: “How did you know how to use this printer?” – “Well, I DON’T WANT TO SOUND LIKE BRAGGING, but I’ve been using the same printer in my previous job!”

Speaking of… there’s one thing I can say for sure – this is how you inform the other person of something you’re 100% sure of: “Can you tell me what kind of shoes I should be wearing for the wedding?” – “SPEAKING OF the wedding, THERE’S ONE THING I CAN SAY FOR SURE – brown shoes is the latest trend, so you can’t go wrong with that!”

Well, taking into consideration thatthis English sentence starter phrase will come in handy when you have to draw a conclusion: “What time you think we should leave to make it home on time?” – “WELL, TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION THAT it takes about half an hour to get home, we should…”

Well, I guess it goes without saying thatyou can use this phrase to state something obvious, something that almost everyone would agree on: “You think Mark is going to be angry if we leave 5 minutes early?” – “WELL I GUESS IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING THAT he won’t be happy with us leaving the shop before it’s supposed to close, but…”

Well, I think it’s safe to assume that – are you making an assumption? Well, then why not use this handy phrase? Here’s how it happens in real life: “Do you think it’s OK to drive the tractor?” – “WELL, I THINK IT’S SAFE TO ASSUME THAT Johnny fixed the brakes or else he wouldn’t have left it here, don’t you think so?”

Well, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that – whenever the element of surprise is brought up during the conversation but you’d like to point out that the matter at hand isn’t so surprising after all, this is how you do it: “Did you know that all bodybuilders use steroids these days?” – “WELL, IT REALLY SHOULDN’T COME AS A SURPRISE THAT they’re all doing it – after all, it’s very popular in other sports as well!”

Well, to answer this question, I have to stress that – a very simple yet handy phrase when you’re making your point by emphasizing a particular aspect of the issue: “Do you think it would be possible for me to start my own business?” – “WELL, TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION, I HAVE TO STRESS THAT 90% of all new business fail within the first year, so…”

When Is It Okay to Start a Sentence with “And” or “But”?

So, if there is a time and place for everything—where is the proper time and place to use “and” or “but” at the beginning of your sentence?

The first thing you want to remember is that you’re using this word to connect two thoughts—so your phrase should be able to stand on its own. This means it has a clearly defined subject and verb.

If you remove your conjunction and you suddenly have a sentence fragment that doesn’t seem to make sense, then you need to rework your wording. Perhaps this means making your two sentences one—using “and” or “but” with a comma, rather than a period.

You should also take into consideration what you are writing. Different types of writing call for different approaches. The use of “and” or “but” at the start of a sentence sometimes brings a sense of informality. It might be right for your blog posts, whereas more formal coordinating conjunctions like “additionally” or “however” might read better in a white paper.

The bottom line is though, it’s never truly off limits. Sometimes it’s more impactful to be so precise and direct.

Can You Begin a Sentence with These Words?

If you are one of those people who prefers to avoid people who begin their sentences with these words, and if you would like to further curtail your sentence-initial word choices, there have been a large number of other words that we have previously been told not to use in that position. Here is a smattering:

Do not begin a sentence with however or a similar unimportant word. —Jacob Cloyd Tressler, English in Action, 1929

Do not begin a sentence with “also” or “likewise.” —George Hitchcock, Sermon Composition, 1908

Or never begins a sentence, paragraph, or chapter. —James Brown, The American System of English Grammar, 1826

Never begin a sentence—or a clause—with also. —J. M. D. Meiklejohn, The Art of Writing English, 1899

Teach the elimination of but, so, and, because, at the beginning of a sentence. —Documents of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1916

A sentence should not commence with the conjunctions and, for, or however…. —George Payn Quackenbos, An Advanced Course of Composition and Rhetoric, 1854

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