People often sit at the keyboard, staring at the screen, hearing voices from the past. “You can’t start a sentence with and, because, or however,” old Miss Grumplebee cautioned them.  Well, relax, folks. Such “rules” are mythical.

We learned valuable lessons about grammar and punctuation in school and perhaps in business, but some advice is misguided, because it was passed along from generation to generation, with no clear understanding of where it originated. Truth is, many teachers cannot explain why certain “rules” are rules.

  • And – This simple little word normally functions as a conjunction, connecting sentence elements. But if you have a sentence that’s a little longer than normal, and you want to let the reader pause to breathe, you can insert a period and continue on this topic in the next sentence. And the “and” at the start of the sentence signals to the reader how the two thoughts are related, just as it does in this sentence. Don’t do it frequently on a page, but it’s a helpful device when you need it. Fowler’s Modern English Usage, a prominent resource, says that “and” at the start of a sentence “is a useful aid to the writer,” and that writers — even Shakespeare — have ignored the prohibition for centuries.
  • Because – This too is a conjunction, or connecting word, that often appears at the head of the sentence to introduce a secondary element. Because several people can’t attend, I postponed the meeting. You also can move the because clause to the end of the sentence and write I postponed the meeting because several people can’t attend. But read both versions of the sentence, and you notice that there is a subtle emphasis added to the because clause when it appears at the front of the sentence, and that extra stress is appropriate given that it’s the reason the meeting was rescheduled. Here is another example: Because no one had arrived, we left. (adds emphasis to the fact that no one showed up.)
  • However – People routinely use but at the start of a sentence, but they avoid using however, apparently because they imagine Miss Crabtree wagging her finger at them. One meaning of however is “in spite of that,” or “nevertheless.” It is a contrast word that can be used at the start of a sentence to indicate a shift in thought from what you said in the previous sentence, as in, “We were disappointed to lose the bid. However, we learned from the experience.” In such a case, insert a comma after however. (When you use however in the middle of the sentence, you usually need a semicolon before it and a comma after it.) Here is another way that however is used at the front of a sentence:

    However long I work here, I will want this office.

    In that example, however means in whatever manner or by whatever means. No comma should appear after however in that context.

If you could benefit from more writing tips like these, sign up for this free monthly writing tip.

Ken O’Quinn conducts writing and managerial communication workshops for corporations. A former Associated Press writer, he is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business and is a contributing author of Focus on Them, about leadership.