Grammar Lesson of the Day: And

Grammar Lesson of the Day: And


“Never begin a sentence with and,” my college freshmen have been told. This is another one of those rules that somebody must have dreamed up in a rage of vengeance: a schoolmaster named Ichabod, disappointed in love, glowering down on his young charges, and thinking, “Yes, I shall make their lives miserable!”

I am opening my Bible to the New Testament, at random. I read: “And he said unto his disciples, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.” I read: “And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?” I read: “And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink.” If it is good enough for Almighty God, it had better be good enough for a dusty old English teacher.

The fact is, English stylists have always begun sentences with and. Bede the Venerable did it in the eighth century. Chaucer did it in the fourteenth. Shakespeare did it in the sixteenth. Milton did it in the seventeenth, Swift did it in the eighteenth, Twain did it in the nineteenth, and Hemingway did it in the twentieth. Every single great English writer without exception has begun sentences with and, and plenty, too. It is the easy way to connect, loosely, one sentence with another. It’s swifter than the pedantic in addition, comma, or furthermore, comma, or comma, moreover, comma. The Greeks began their sentences with their kai, the Hebrews began their sentences with their w’, and the Romans began their sentences with their atque. It’s natural. You can overdo it, of course. But then, you can begin too many sentences with notwithstanding or inasmuch as. As, for instance, two.

All of this prompts the question: Why do teachers tell their students not to do things that are perfectly fine to do, and even commendable, and why do they tell them to do things (as, for instance, to write dull conclusions that merely recapitulate what their essays have already said) that are better avoided? There seem to me to be two possibilities.

The first is that the teachers do not wish to tell students the truth, because the “rule” is easier to impart. Human things require taste and tact; formulas don’t. The second is that the teachers themselves do not know how to write well. Neither possibility does them credit.


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