People who have ‘writer’ in their job title are usually quite happy to start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’. Often that’s because they’ve read the wonderful 1926 classic, Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Fowler says it’s perfectly fine.

Fowler wrote his book to help civil servants and other writers of dull official documents express themselves like human beings instead of impersonal automatons. He championed clarity over complexity. He was a writing superhero.

View from the other side

We often run workshops for people who write at work. They don’t feel they’re real writers, but they do want to get it right. Sometimes they feel uncomfortable starting sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’. Often they think using contractions is wrong (shortening ‘I am’ into ‘I’m’ or ‘it is not’ into ‘it’s not’ or ‘it isn’t’).

People tell us these are new, modern changes, not English the way it’s always been and the way it ought to be. That somehow these things sneaked in recently, just after they left school. That’s it’s a sign of falling standards like txt tlk and lite, tonite and drive-thru.

Proof of the pudding

But contractions and starting sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’ were around long before the 21st century, and in fact long before Fowler (check the Bible). Here, as evidence, is a Department of Health book from 1937 on fitness for women and girls. (Don’t ask why we have this…) These ads appear right at the front. Feel free to wave them at the unbelievers.

Dept-of-Health-advert-1-retouch-low Dept-of-Health-advert-2-retouch-lowCopywriting history, ladies and gents. Got any others hanging around that we can add to our collection?