I learned yesterday that I have incorrectly begun sentences for years with “And” or “But” — but not in the way that some readers might expect.
Should a comma follow a coordinating conjunction that begins a sentence?
The coordinating conjunctions in English are “for”, “and”, “nor”, “but”, “or”, “yet”, and “so”, a mnemonic for which is FANBOYS.
Some teachers instruct their students that a coordinating conjunction should never begin a sentence, but this is incorrect instruction.
In contrast, I was (incorrectly) taught relatively early that a comma should immediately follow one of these coordinating conjunctions when the conjunction begins a sentence.
For example, I was taught that the comma belongs after “And” in “And, he was happy with the results.”
Similarly, I was taught that the comma belongs after “So” in “So, you should see a doctor immediately.”
As a result, for years I have put commas immediately after the coordinating conjunctions that began my sentences.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I read on several websites yesterday that a comma should not be put immediately after a sentence-opening coordinating conjunction unless that conjunction is followed by an interrupter in a sentence such as “But, given the circumstances, you should not travel tomorrow.”
Here are some of those websites:
I do not know why I was taught to put a comma after a coordinating conjunction that begins any sentence.
But my guess is that it could be due to hypercorrection on the part of my teacher(s), as if to say “We should not begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. However, if we do, then we should follow the coordinating conjunction with a comma, just as we put a comma after a conjunctive adverb — such as “However” — at the beginning of a sentence.”
Having learned this lesson, which I should have learned a long time ago, I searched all of my old blog posts for the error of putting a comma immediately after a coordinating conjunction at the start of an interrupter-less sentence.
“So” was the coordinating conjunction with which I made this error the most often. (Learning truly never ends!)
I believe that I corrected most of my errors, but it certainly is possible that some remain. If you find one, then please contact me.
If an interrupter immediately follows the coordinating conjunction at the beginning of a sentence, then put a comma after the conjunction. Otherwise, do not put a comma after the (FANBOYS) conjunction.