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.