Beginning a Sentence with And or But

Like CMS §5.206, SBL Press acknowledges that it is acceptable to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and or but. That being said, we recommend that authors use such constructions sparingly. While initial conjunctions can be effective, beginning too many sentences with simple conjunctions can lead to a disjointed composition and weaken the rhetorical force of an argument. Consider the following:

One is never quite sure whether to read Mark as a parody of the human hero apotheosized or as an apocalypse of the divine hero humiliated, not the only choices of course, but also not resolved by the writer’s penchant for obscurity, ambiguity, irony, and mystery. And so, if the Christ is David’s Lord, it is apparently not because of Jesus’s messianic office but because of the mystery of Jesus’s divinity (Mark 12:35–37). And if the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel clearly exhibits features of a Moses-and-Elijah-like figure, his status and authority are declared to exceed theirs at the baptism and on the mountain (Mark 1:11; 9:7). And yet, this overloading of attributes and roles, these declarations of authority and status exceeding prophets and kings of old, do nothing to relieve the fear, doubt, and uncertainty that is pervasive in the story world to the very end.

Here three sentences in a row begin with and, which can give the impression of a fragmented and incomplete argument. The flow of the paragraph can be strengthened by deleting the initial and or by replacing it with a stronger conjunction. For example:

One is never quite sure whether to read Mark as a parody of the human hero apotheosized or as an apocalypse of the divine hero humiliated, not the only choices of course, but also not resolved by the writer’s penchant for obscurity, ambiguity, irony, and mystery. If the Christ is David’s Lord, it is apparently not because of Jesus’s messianic office but because of the mystery of Jesus’s divinity (Mark 12:35–37). Moreover, if the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel clearly exhibits features of a Moses-and-Elijah-like figure, his status and authority are declared to exceed theirs at the baptism and on the mountain (Mark 1:11; 9:7). Yet this overloading of attributes and roles, these declarations of authority and status exceeding prophets and kings of old, do nothing to relieve the fear, doubt, and uncertainty that is pervasive in the story world to the very end.

Deleting and so in the second sentence tightens the paragraph. Changing and to the compound conjunction moreover in the third sentence more clearly signals the connection between the second and third sentences. Finally, using yet (without and) in the third sentence heightens the contrast between the last sentence and the preceding sentences. With a few simple changes, the connections between sentences become clearer and the argument as a whole flows more smoothly.

Work Cited

The example here has been modified from Miller (forthcoming) in order to illustrate the points discussed.

Miller, Merrill P. Forthcoming. “The Social Logic of the Gospel of Mark: Cultural Persistence and Social Escape in a Postwar Time.” In Redescribing the Gospel of Mark. Edited by Barry S. Crawford and Merrill P. Miller. ECL 22. Atlanta: SBL Press.

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