A case for but


Who says you can't use a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence?

Who says you can’t use a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence?


A case for But


Language and grammar lessons are everywhere.

I was sitting at breakfast in a restaurant very early one Saturday morning. Tired and in desperate need of coffee, I sat at the table waiting for my brain to catch up with my body. This might seem a little strange, but my mind starts going way before my body ever joins the party, and this morning was no exception. I sat at the table waiting for my coffee. Tapping my thumbs, I began to play with the menu on the table.  I read it,  then flipped it over and read it again trying to decide what I wanted to eat.  There it was. One sentence that just stood out and I actually said out loud, “This is a really good sentence.(See example in above caption.)  It was really smart to use a subordinating conjunction at the beginning of this sentence!”  In that instant I remembered my years of schooling and learning that you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction.   “Absolutely not!” Teacher after teacher, year after year would tell me  this. I would have countless red marks on my paper whenever I did this, but never fully understood why. I just knew it was wrong.

The truth is, sometimes its great to start a sentence with a conjunction. Knowing when and why is key.  Starting this sentence with the subordinating conjunction but was a great idea! When I read the sentence, I immediately heard  a voice with light – hearted sarcasm. I saw a grin on the writer’s face, and even saw the writer winking her eye. This sentence was in my eyes perfect and concise. It was a  thought to leave you with. I got it! I thought to myself.  I got her message (I think).

There were so many other ways that this sentence could have been written, but the writer choose to write it this way. I wonder if she intended for me, the reader, to interpret it the way I did.

As I sat there intrigued, I started thinking about the rich conversation that students could have with each other about this sentence. Questions could arise such as:

  • What other ways could the sentence have been written
  • What do you think the intended meaning was?
  • How did you interpret the use of the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence?
  • What message did the writer really want to convey?
  •  Do you think the writer had a limited number of words to work with?

I also started thinking about the possible G.R.I.P lesson that could naturally follow.


Grammar Concept – Using subordinating conjunctions in a variety of positions.

Reading – The sentence from the menu (with the back story of course)

Impact – The use of a subordinating conjunction at the beginning of this sentence works well because it helps me as the reader understand the tone of the writing.

Practice – Go back to your writing from last week and see if you can find a place to revise a sentence, using a subordinating conjunction at the beginning of the sentence. Be prepared to share why you made the change.


Lessons don’t always come out of a textbook, sometimes they come from seeing grammar for what it is, a part of everyday life. The next time you sit down at a coffee shop or in a restaurant, don’t ignore writing that speaks to you. Use it to show students how to get a  G.R.I.P.



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