Watch What You Write: This page is devoted to defending the English language and encouraging disciplined writing. Our regular contributor will be Adrianne LeMan who will seize on sloppy writing and firmly remind us of the need to write correctly. However, we welcome other contributors. Just send your piece or any comments on what we have published to firstname.lastname@example.org
I hate to read sentences that begin with “and” or “but”, both of which are conjunctions. The clue to how conjunctions should be used is in the name: a conjunction connects one part of a sentence with the next. To my mind that means that conjunctions should not be used at the beginning of sentences, as they so often are.
I have to admit that Fowler’s Common English Usage disagrees: it comments that, “this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times”, but the fact that something is, or has been, done frequently doesn’t make it right. A bit of judicious punctuation invariably removes the apparent need to break a long sentence and start a new one with “And” or “But”.
An example in today’s Guardian: “Under this process, an independent parliamentary commissioner investigates complaints against an MP and submits a report to the committee, including proposed penalties. But it is for the standards committee…” Why not, “Under this process, an independent parliamentary commissioner investigates complaints against an MP and submits a report to the committee, including proposed penalties; but it is for the standards committee…”?
The useful, but increasingly ignored, semi-colon connects the two threads of the sentence together to make a more coherent whole.
Adrianne LeMan ran a UK company for many years with a team that wrote and edited annual reports, websites, brochures, etc, for a wide range of major companies. She now works as a freelance writer/editor – again assisting major companies. She is interested in words: their use, and misuse, the way they are spelled and the way they look. Adrianne also keeps a close eye on the use, and misuse, of language, which she feels should be clear and to the point.