And & But as sentence starters

The other day my 9-year-old son looked up from his book and said: ‘Ms M says that you’re not allowed to start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’. So why do they start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’ in every book that I read?’

What a fabulous thing for him to notice. And it started the most wonderful conversation at home …

  • About why his teacher tells the class that they shouldn’t start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’ (my theory is that children are introduced to this ‘rule’ to encourage them to vary their sentence construction)
  • About why ‘and’ and ‘but’ are terrific sentence openers if they’re used with care
  • About how writers need to understand their audiences and, if audiences don’t like particular devices, then it’s best not to use them (so he’s figured out not to start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’ at school, because his teacher doesn’t like it)
  • About the way that children are sometimes taught excessively simple ‘rules’, which can later be complicated and un-learned
  • About how language ‘rules’ are just conventions and, once you understand them, you may be able to break them with purpose.

I wish that schools didn’t teach children not to start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’. There are so many more useful things about writing to learn. And, in every writing workshop that I run, at least one participant will be astonished that my use of ‘and’ and ‘but’ is OK.