Andsplaining: or why you absolutely can start a sentence with and
Here’s a short, but not exhaustive, list of popular publications that have sentences beginning with the word and.
- The US Constitution
- The Bible
- The Canterbury Tales
- Most books published since The Canterbury Tales
- Newspapers (again, all of ‘em)
- Magazines (ibid)
Now, here’s a list of publications that go to frankly absurd, contortive lengths to avoid beginning a sentence with and.
- Branded marketing content
- GCSE essays
That’s right. It’s time to talk about the bugbear of more or less every copywriter whoever copywrote. That comment you find sat there in the margin, all proud of itself that it’s caught this supposed professional, full-time writer out…
You can’t start a sentence with and.
In my experience, this is very common in B2B. And it’s one of the things people are least likely to stand down on when challenged with the suggestion that banning conjunctions from opening sentences is detrimental to readability and flow.
It’s something I’ve termed andsplaining – characterised as the (often well-intentioned) practice of explaining something to people who are already experts on it. Joining it are things like removing list commas, adding a shit-ton of semi-colons where no semi-colon should go, and generally going about stripping urgency and interest from copy with a style guide written by a misguided English teacher.
So, with wrong, prescriptive grammar guidelines in the news at the moment, thanks to that MP who looks a bit like Beaker from the Muppets, let’s knock this one on the head shall we?
When interrogated a bit, you’ll find that a lot of grammar ‘rules’ are schoolday hangovers that stick around with people long into their professional lives, rarely questioned. The trouble is, they were never rules to begin with.
Many, many writers have repeatedly tried to point this out before us.
As we’re sure you’re aware, Wilson Follet’s Modern American Usage calls the and rule ‘a prejudice [that] lingers from the days of schoolmarmism rhetoric.’
Kingsley Amis wrote, ‘And the idea that and must not begin a sentence, or even a paragraph, is an empty superstition. The same goes for but.’
And Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage explains that the idea is ‘a faintly lingering superstition.’
Now, it may well be that these writing guides and meditations on writing are only read by other writers. Which is why everyone from the CMO to the janitor reckons the copywriter who begins a sentence with and is some kinda huckster who’s conned their way into the gig.
But the whole andsplaining thing has got to stop.
And here’s why…
Sentences beginning with conjunctions are there for a reason. They serve a purpose.
Sometimes that might be adding a bit of urgency and drama to copy. Just like a strategically placed line break or header.
Sometimes conjunctions are useful for stopping writers bending over backwards to twin two sentences. I mean, who really wants to read a clause that begins Additionally, Furthermore or, God forbid, Moreover?
And that brings me to my last point: rhythm and the natural flow of language.
You’ve almost certainly read a quote along the lines of, ‘Enterprise and Business Partners is delighted to announce the leveraging of our strategic solution to further the goals of our prospects’, said Bill Executive.
It’s hideous, right? Because it sounds like nothing anyone’s ever said.
But that’s what copy that refuses to follow the natural rhythms of speech and language is like all the time. It’s formal to the point of being unreadable.
The more that writing sounds conversational, colloquial and real, the better. Especially in marketing, where your main purpose is to start conversations with people. Conjunctions are part of that. So refusing them at sentence breaks for the sake of an old ‘rule’ doesn’t make much sense.
And that’s that.
I always prefer copy that has a bit of life to it. The more rules in place, the less that’s likely to happen – and sadly B2B can be a bit guilty of that.
Our advice to clients is to loosen the reins a bit, to give your copy a bit of personality and to use conjunctions, contractions, Oxford commas, emojis and whatever little tricks and flicks you fancy. Some go for it, some don’t. All we can do is to keep stating our case again.