The “Rules of English”

In response to my post defending sentences that start with “and” and “but,” commenter ptt writes, “Or they’re called conjunctions for a reason. EV should create a new tag: Rules of English I Don’t Like.”

Actually, my claim in the post was that there is no rule of English against starting sentences with conjunctions. Educated writers at the highest levels routinely start sentences with conjunctions (I gave some examples in the post, but we can find many more). And even if one looks at Rules that are set by ostensible Authorities (I don’t, but of course prescriptivists do), I’m unaware of any consensus of authority in favor of a rule prohibiting conjunctions at the start of sentences. The commenter certainly doesn’t point to one.

The commenter does seem to appeal to logic, by apparently suggesting, in his first sentence, that conjunctions must connect together two parts of a sentence. But like many appeals to supposed logic when it comes to language, this appeal assumes the conclusion. The term “conjunction” does suggest that a word is connecting two things, but it doesn’t tell us that those two things must be parts of the same sentence. Why can’t a conjunction serve as a transition that logically connects two consecutive sentences?

So if you want to argue that some usage is wrong because you’re a prescriptivist and it violates some authoritative prescription, that’s fine: You won’t persuade descriptivists (except insofar as the prescription accurately captures common usage), but you might persuade other prescriptivists. But you still need to actually point to credible authorities that issue such a prescription, rather than just asserting that some usage is a violation of the “Rules of English” as you personally believe those rules to be.