What do coordinating conjunctions do?
Conjunctions, as a group, are like road junctions: they are where sentences join. Coordinating conjunctions, one of the two categories of conjunctions, resemble an intersection with a roundabout; they join the roads in a way where all roads are equal. No way in or out of the roundabout is more important than any other.
The clauses (or sentences) joined by coordinating conjunctions are said to be coordinate; they have equal status, or weight. A sentence that is formed by two or more clauses joined by coordinating conjunctions is called a compound sentence.
Coordinating conjunctions and the FANBOYS
In traditional grammar, there were only three, or four coordinating conjunctions (depending on who you asked): and, but, or and, possibly, yet.
Modern grammar has added more, upgrading for, nor, yet and so from subordinating conjugations to coordinating conjuctions, making the full list of coordinating conjunctions for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so. These seven words can be remembered with the acronym FANBOYS.
Can you start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction?
Yes, you can start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. As I have explained in an earlier post, the idea most likely came from thinking that, since coordinating conjunctions had to join things, they couldn’t sit on their own at the start of a sentence. But this is not the case. I draw the line at starting sentences with the newly upgraded coordinating conjunctions: for, nor, yet and so. I still prefer to think of these four words as subordinating conjunctions, which means they can start a sentence but it has to contain more than one clause. So this sentence would be wrong. At least, it is wrong to my mind; modern grammarians would disagree.
I once worked on a book where the authors started more than 220 sentences with so, most of them only single-clause sentences. This worked out at more than one a page, so, by any measure, I think that was too many. We compromised and settled on two single-clause sentences starting with so per chapter, making about twenty in total.
You can hear a discussion about how the internet is changing language, and whether or not so can start a sentence in this audio clip from the ABC Melbourne Breakfast show (the clip lasts for just over 9 minutes).
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