But What If I Want to Begin with a But?

I feel a bit sorry for the brave souls who get real good and sloshed one day and decide it’s a good idea to write a grammar guide. I really do. I don’t know how they put up with all the sassy letters from college kids and business men who just got a good grasp of what an auxiliary verb is and are convinced the author used one improperly once throughout his or her 6,000+ page text. Cheers to you, brave ones.

So, that being said, allow me to discuss a common conundrum the English language beholds: beginning sentences with adversative conjunctions. As always, it is best described by my good buddy, Bryan A. Garner. (Note: Bryan and I are not affiliated with one another in any way, although I’m sure he would think me handsome if we had the chance to meet for tea in a trough.) You might be wondering, “Well, shucks, whut da huh is an adversative conjunction?” I’ll make them bold in the following examples for a little clarity.

The little Italian babies are cute dressed up for Christmas, but man, they sure do bite.

Margie’s ham hocks needed a little something; however, we still ate them.

Yanni says he used Lysol, yet it still smells like throw up in his room.

Got it? They’re conjunctions used in the middle of a sentence after a comma or semicolon. They look pretty sitting in the middle of sentences, don’t they? But (note that I just started a sentence with “but”) what happens when you need, absolutely need, to place one at the beginning of a sentence? My llama mama tells me stories of how nuns used to spank kids on the fanny with flaming yardsticks if they ever even thought of pulling such a stunt. Thank God this trend is now more socially accepted by linguists, llamas, and nuns alike.

As Mr. Garner states (and I recommend reading the following sentence in a British accent with a steaming cup of Earl Grey swirling under your beard), “It is a gross canard that beginning a sentence with but is stylistically slipshod. In fact, doing so is highly desirable in any number of contexts, as many stylebooks have said…”

You’re probably wondering, “What the huh does canard mean?” I admit, I had to look it up myself. It’s an unfounded rumor or story.

I could go on and on with this topic, as I always can about any old thing, but allow me to summarize while the confusion is hot: If you can throw a conjunction into the middle of a sentence, do it. If you simply cannot, if your phrase cannot be solidified without starting a sentence with a conjunction, do it. Don’t make a filthy habit out of it, but gingerly dashing a few buts and howevers and neverthelesses and yets at the front of a sentence never hurt anyone…except those poor Catholic-school children.

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