Anyone sitting in an English grammar class prior to 2010 probably remembers their teacher getting on a soapbox about beginning a sentence with “so,” “but,” and “because.” Despite this, the stubborn use of “so” to introduce a sentence has only grown in verbal and casual writing.
Yes, you may begin a sentence with “so” correctly. Typically, this is the function of a conjunctive “so,” tying the new sentence to the previous one. An adverbial “so” may occasionally start a sentence meaning “thus” or “as a result.” Further, adverbial phrases like “so far as I know” are also appropriate for starting a sentence.
There is a lot to unpack with “so” because it is amazingly flexible. In fact, there are times when starting a sentence with adverbial or conjunctive “so” is incorrect. So, how do we know?
Is It Grammatically Correct to Start a Sentence With “So”?
It is grammatically correct to start a sentence with “so” in certain situations. “So” may appear at the beginning of a sentence as a conjunction, an adverb, an adverbial phrase, and even an adjective in some cases.
“So” can perform many grammatical functions. Some of these may correctly begin a sentence.
The Conjunction “So”
The most common way of correctly using “so” at the beginning of a sentence is to connect it to whatever we’ve stated or has happened previously.
- So, there he was on the brink of a new discovery when the dog rushed under the table.
Notice that these examples focus on connecting ideas for the flow of conversation, not on connecting independent clauses. Further, putting “so” later in the sentence won’t work, so it isn’t functioning as a subordinating conjunction either.
Another way to use the conjunction “so” at the beginning of a sentence is as a way to check for understanding by repeating a point.
- So we are not going to show up until Friday morning, right?
Placing conjunctive “so” at the beginning of a sentence is also possible when referring to a discovery or an epiphany.
- So that’s how the raccoons keep getting into the house!
You can utilize “so” to emphasize what you are about to say.
- So, we have arrived where our diet began — a donut shop.
When asking a question about current events or points of interest, it is appropriate to use “so” at the beginning.
- So, what kind of music do you like to listen to?
One other use of conjunctive “so” at the beginning of a sentence is in agreement with what someone said, but you do not think it is important (source).
- So he’s not the same guy in the profile picture — he’s still a nice guy.
The Adverb “So”
Adverbial “so” can introduce a new topic, a comment on what someone said, or a question about something someone said.
- So, how did it go?
- So, according to your chore track record, Jack, you won’t get your full allowance.
As a subordinating conjunction at the beginning of an adverbial clause, “so” might be at the beginning of the sentence.
- So the horses wouldn’t get out, Susan closed the gate.
Adverbial “so” can modify another word at the beginning of the sentence.
- So many people showed up to the concert!
We may place some adverbial phrases beginning with “so” at the beginning of a sentence, too.
- So far as I know, fast food kitchens are squeaky clean.
- So much for a quick meal; it’s been 45 minutes since we ordered.
- So as to be professional, Charlie put on his best suit.
- So what?
- So far, so good.
- So long!
The Adjective “So”
Less often, “so” may appear in the adjective form at the beginning of a sentence.
- So be it.
What Does “So” Mean?
Due to a vast array of functions, “so” can mean multiple things. The adverb “so” can mean “in the same way,” “thus,” “then,” “very,” or “indeed.” As a conjunction, “so” means “in order that” or “therefore.” The adjective “so” can communicate “true.”
In its adverb form, “so” has a greater range of meaning. It indicates “in the same way” or “also.” It can also mean “thus” or “subsequently.”
- I told you so.
- Dawn enjoys art and so does he.
- Jake will be there, or so he said.
- And so they went.
In terms of measuring the extent of something, “we can define so” as “very” or “extremely.” In terms of measurement, “so” also means “indeed” or “surely.”
- There are so many people!
- You did so.
- I so disagree with you.
“So” may also mean “therefore” or “consequently.”
- Chase has lied before, so we can’t trust him.
As a conjunction, “so” means “as a result” or “in order that.”
- Josh spent a lot of time on that paper, so he got an A.
- Be quiet so you don’t wake the baby!
The conjunction “so” can also mean “therefore.”
- She told me to stop, so I did.
“So” can communicate that a point is just not important.
- So what?
- So much for that.
To indicate surprise, someone may use “so.”
- So, it was her!
The meaning of the adjective “so” ranges from “true” to “adherence to the right order.”
- Sherri said it was not so.
- James’s OCD requires that his pencils are situated just so.
The meaning of “so” in the pronoun function is that of whatever it replaces. It can also mean “the same” (source).
- I haven’t seen him in a week or so.
- If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, do so before the 15th.
How Do You Use “So”?
“So” communicates a range of meanings depending on how you use it. It may function as an adverb, conjunction, or adjective. Where you place it in the sentence often depends upon its role in the sentence and what you want to say.
To determine how to use “so” in the sentence, you must first decide whether you need it to modify a word or stand alone. If you need to modify a word, you should use it adverbially or adjectivally. In contrast, you can use “so” as a conjunction to show a relation.
Modifying Another Word
As an adjective, “so” looks odd. It seems like it stands alone, but a closer look will reveal that it describes something’s conformation or order (source).
- It is not so. (describing “it”)
- She styles her hair just so. (describing “hair”)
You can use “so” in several ways and places as an adverb. Here are some of the most common:
|also||He is tall, and so is she.|
|degree||The fish seemed so happy.|
|very||I love you so much.|
|surely||I so want to hide right now.|
|therefore||The ice cream melted and was so undesirable.|
You can use “so” as a coordinating conjunction to join two equal thoughts or a subordinating conjunction to introduce an adverbial clause.
As a coordinating conjunction, “so” most often joins two related independent clauses within the same sentence.
- I needed some tomatoes, so I went to the store.
Though you could write these two sentences out individually, this is unnecessary since they go together easily and avoid the awkwardness of putting a coordinating conjunction “so” at the beginning of the sentence.
However, when the independent clauses on either side add some dependent clauses, it may be cleaner and less confusing to break the two sentences at “so.”
While preparing to make some spaghetti sauce, I needed some tomatoes. So I went to the store before I finished chopping the vegetables to buy some tomatoes.
As a subordinating conjunction, “so” connects a dependent adverbial clause to the sentence. Adverbial clauses are flexible, so we can place them after the clause they modify or before it.
- I left the house so you would miss me.
- So you would miss me, I left the house.
Notice that we follow a dependent clause headed by subordinating conjunction “so” with a comma when it comes before the independent clause. Also note that it is acceptable grammar to begin a sentence with “so” starting an adverb dependent clause.
When Can You Use “So”?
You can use “so” to indicate how much or to what extent something is: “That sandwich is so good” or “This coffee is so hot.”
You can also use “so” to emphasize what you say or to introduce a new topic or question: “So, we meet again” or “So, what do you think about that yellow?”
Using “so” before you repeat a point to make sure everyone is on the same page is appropriate: “So we are meeting at the theater tonight at 8:00, right?”
Another way you can use “so” is to describe the result of something: “He spit on her hand, so she slapped his face.”
Additionally, you may use “so” to join two related sentences: “I really like dogs, so I adopted a puppy.”
You may even attach a related incomplete thought to a complete thought with “so”: “He shut the door so the puppy wouldn’t run outside.”
In What Context Can You Use “So”?
You can use “so” to emphasize words and phrases adverbially in speech but not in formal writing. Instead, we ought to replace phrases like “so good” with “excellent” in formal writing for conciseness.
In terms of connecting sentences, “so” is appropriate in speech or writing, but stronger, clearer subordinating conjunctions like “therefore” are preferable in formal writing.
Using “So” in a Full Sentence
In a full sentence, “so” can appear in many places depending upon the function. Typically, “so” appears within the sentence to modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. However, the conjunction “so” can appear at the beginning of the sentence.
The adjective “so” is likely to appear at the end of a sentence or at least sometime after the noun it modifies: “He considers them so.”
Adverbial “so” often modifies other words in the sentence: “The kids are so hungry.”
Coordinating conjunction “so” is usually between two independent clauses: “Harry is a wizard, so he must learn spells.”
Subordinating conjunction “so” joins a dependent clause to an independent clause, but it can do this in two ways:
- Jerry cleaned the kitchen so she would be happy.
- So she would be happy, Jerry cleaned the kitchen.
When Not to Use “So” at the Start of a Sentence
Do not use “so” at the start of a sentence if it is a coordinating conjunction that could easily join the two independent clauses together.
- He insisted that he could do it. So, I let him.
However, we could easily combine these two sentences into one to make “so” a coordinating conjunction that links two independent clauses within one sentence.
- He insisted that he could do it, so I let him.
Do not put a dependent clause beginning with “so” alone because it is not a complete thought. It must have an independent clause to complete it.
- Incorrect: So they could learn Chinese.
- Correct: So they could learn Chinese, Mary hired a Chinese tutor.
What Can You Use Instead of “So”?
What you use to replace “so” at the beginning of a sentence depends entirely on what you are communicating. If you attempt to link a sentence to something you’ve previously said, use a different conjunction. You may often simply drop an adverbial “so.”
Depending on the context, you may opt to use transition words like “therefore,” “thus,” “as a result,” or “consequently” instead of “so.” Because “so” is such a common and flexible word, people often overuse it.
Generally speaking, you ought to swap the conjunction “so” out for stronger subordinating conjunctions and adverbial extent “so” with stronger adjectives (or drop it altogether) whenever you can in writing.
Coordinating conjunctions join two equal words, phrases, or clauses. They are “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so” or FANBOYS. Coordinating conjunctions do not typically begin a sentence, but they may if the two equal sentences they link are too long to remain clear when combined.
Coordinating conjunctions do not normally start a sentence because their purpose is to join two equivalent items: “Tom likes fish, so he eats fish often.”
In cases where both sentences are strongly related but complex (already made up of multiple clauses), it may be an improvement to keep the sentences independent and show their relationship by starting the second with a coordinating conjunction.
Jace and Emma are both dedicated athletes because they exercise for five hours a day. Yet, they are never satisfied with their achievements because they set new goals for growth.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Obviously, this gets into matters of style versus grammar. Technically, joining the two sentences would still be grammatically correct, but you should consider style concerns and the need to give your reader a break.
For more on sentence structure and style, consider reading “Can You End a Sentence With Did?” “Can You End a Sentence with Is?” “Is it Correct to Start a Sentence With And?” and “Do You End a Question With For?”
Using “so” at the opening of a sentence can generate lots of anxiety for such a small word. If you stick with either replacing “so” with more varied subordinating conjunctions, you will avoid much of the debate around beginning a sentence with “so.”
However, don’t be afraid to begin a sentence with “so,” as it is generally correct. Whether or not you do so between independent sentences is largely up to personal choice. So, what do you think?