Rosie Right 

And what do you think?

A friend has written to take our editor to task for starting a sentence with the conjunction and. "It's redundant," she complains. "A conjunction is by nature a joining word. If you place a period, you have ended that thought."

The editor, on the other hand, defends the usage, responding: "It's conversational. It's tone. It helps you make a point. In the thoughts of our copy editors, it's a little fuddy-duddy, in the Miss Prim sort of grammatical way, to insist that you can't start sentences with 'But' or 'And' anymore."

The exchange is interesting because the correspondents have hit upon one of the controversies in the English language that lingers. Indeed, for many years our strict grammarian teachers taught us that beginning a sentence with a conjunction is forbidden to those who want to speak or write proper English. But like many things in language usage, the need to adhere to this strict command is not so clear. According to Fowler's Modern English Usage, third edition:

"There is a persistent belief that it is improper to begin a sentence with And, but this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. An initial And is a useful aid to writers as the narrative continues. The OED provides examples from the 9th century to the 19 century, including one from Shakespeare's 'King John.'"

According to Theodore M. Bernstein, author of "Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblins": "There is evidence that people do crave authority in matters of language. They do ask for rules and rulings. … They do seem to want a middle way. And of course they are right. As in so many other endeavors in life, in the use of English an avoidance of extremes is the way to achievement and excellence."

In the case of and at the beginning of a sentence, this seems to be true. Even those who are permissive warn against using too many ands to begin a sentence. Indeed, a Web site that is devoted to "Online English Language Polls" (www.usingenglish.com/poll/) reports that 55.05 percent of its visitors believe it is all right to start a sentence with and, but 44.98 percent frown on it. Close enough to leave room for some discussion.

Let Rosie hear from you by phone (358-0825, ext 322), e-mail (rozanne.epps@styleweekly.com) or by mail (1313 E. Main St., Suite 103, Richmond VA 23219).

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