Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dear Lady (Legal) Writer

In my Dear Lady (Legal) Writer posts, I’ll answer legal writing questions I get from readers, students, colleagues, and friends.

Dear Lady (Legal) Writer,
I notice you start sentences with and and but. I was taught you can’t start sentences with these words. What gives?


Dear JPS,

I, too, learned you should never start a sentence with “and” or “but.” I think we probably learned this “rule” when we are young because our English teachers were trying to help us avoid sentence fragments. I’m not aware of any widely used style or usage guide that prohibits starting sentences with “and” or “but.” In fact, professional writers frequently start sentences with “and” and “but”—and do so effectively. This isn’t a new trend, either. Shakespeare, Chaucer, and authors of the books of the Bible all started sentences with these conjunctions.   

It is true that “and” and “but” are somewhat informal. That said, sentences starting with “and” or “but” are more conversational than those that start with words such as “however” or “nevertheless.” And many readers respond well to conversational writing—even law-trained readers, like judges.

You should use “and” and “but” sparingly, though, to ensure your writing flows. And remember—mix your sentence structure and length to change emphasis and add interest.


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