How to Avoid Using “but” at the Start of a Sentence – Strategies for Parents

How to Avoid Using “but” at the Start of a Sentence

As you write your latest assignment and want to begin the next sentence with “but,” your teacher’s voice enters your head. You start trying to think of another way to write what you want to say and wonder, “How do you avoid starting a sentence with ‘but’?”

The simplest way to avoid using “but” at the start of a sentence is to reword the sentence to eliminate the need for the word “but.” You can also replace “but” with an adverb word or phrase like “however,” “On the other hand,” or “though.” You can also combine two contrasting sentences into one compound sentence where “but” would be after a comma in the sentence rather than behind a period.

If you grew up learning English in the United States of America, your grade school teacher probably told you at one point that you should NEVER start a sentence with “but.” Keep reading to find out the different ways you can avoid using “but” at the beginning of a sentence or if you should avoid it at all.

Should You Start a Sentence With “But”?

First, is starting a sentence with “but” wrong? Although many Americans may remember their grade school teachers saying that you should never start a sentence with “but,” a sentence that begins with “but” is not wrong, and there is no rule that exists that says otherwise (source).

In most cases, whether or not you start a sentence with “but” is determined by how formal your writing style is and the preferences of the person receiving the assignment.

If you are writing a research paper for a school assignment or an article for a client, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with their writing guidelines before you start the project. 

You can usually use “but” to start a sentence when writing something informal like a personal blog, a post on a social media outlet, or an email.

Note: Be careful with business emails to ensure that your company doesn’t have a specific grammar policy. 

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Is It Grammatically Correct to Start a Sentence With “But”?

Since there is no grammatical rule stating that you cannot use conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence, it is not grammatically incorrect to start with “but” (source).

Still, suppose you are writing a scholarly journal entry, a scientific essay, a governmental document, or the like. In that case, you may want to avoid starting your sentences with “but” to keep the formality of the piece intact. Again, the issue is one of style more than grammatical accuracy.

With that said, even important documents like our United States Constitution have numerous sentences that start with “but” (source).

When you write “but” at the beginning of a sentence, it contrasts the sentence’s meaning before it. We do the same thing when we use the word “though,” an adverb, at the end of a sentence. In both cases, the writing is usually casual, which we might avoid for more formal business writing.

Is Starting a Sentence With “but” Bad?

Starting a sentence with “but” is certainly not bad. Contrary to popular belief, using “but” at the beginning of a sentence might actually be helpful when writing in a certain style or trying to avoid run-on sentences. 

In our early grade school lessons, many of us learned that starting a sentence with a conjunction was taboo and should never be done under any circumstances.

There are no clear reasons why teachers created this non-existent rule. The most common consensus is that teachers wanted their students to avoid writing how they spoke and explore the different ways of writing complex sentences. 

Be that as it may, there is simply no foundational backing for this rule, and the answer to why teachers taught students this way is shrouded in speculation (source).

How Do You Avoid Beginning a Sentence With “But”?

As I mentioned before, if you are writing a more formal piece that requires you to find clever ways to avoid using “but” at the start of a sentence, there are a few different ways you can do it.

Reword the Sentence to Eliminate the Use of “but”

If you don’t want to use “but” at the beginning of a sentence, perhaps you can eliminate the word from the sentence altogether. Changing the focus of the second sentence so that it does not directly contrast the sentence before it can help you bypass the use of the word.

Take a look at the following example: 

Taking a picture of the sunrise is something my father does a lot. But, for me, waking up early enough to get a picture of my own is a challenge.

If you were only having a casual conversation with someone, this might be how you would make this statement. However, if you were trying to avoid using “but” at the beginning of the sentence, you could rephrase the second sentence to remove “but” completely. 

Taking a picture of the sunrise is something my father does a lot. It is just too bad that waking up early enough to get a picture of my own is such a challenge.

The message is the same in both examples, even though we rephrased it. 

Use Adverbs to Replace the “but” at the Beginning of the Sentence

If rephrasing your sentence won’t work, you can avoid using “but” at the beginning of a sentence by switching the conjunction with an adverb word or phrase like “however,” “on the other hand,” or “though.”

For example, instead of writing a sentence like this: 

My wife and I were thinking about trying to have another baby soon. But then again, my wife says the kid we already have is a handful, so we’ll wait.

You could replace the “but” in the sentence with an adverb to get this: 

My wife and I were thinking about having another baby soon. However, my wife says the kid we already have is a handful, so we’ll wait.

Combine Two Contrasting Sentences Into a Compound Sentence

If you write two contrasting sentences and want to avoid using “but” at the beginning of your second sentence, you could always combine the two sentences to form a compound sentence.

Coordinating conjunctions like “but,” “and,” “or,” and “so” are words designed specifically to help you form a compound sentence and are one of the easiest ways to avoid starting your sentence with “but.”

Take a look at this example sentence:

We were all excited about getting on the rollercoaster ride. But my little brother was too afraid to get on when we got there.

Again, if you were saying this to someone, this would probably be the natural way it would come out.

Now see the change in the revised sentence:

We were all excited about getting on the rollercoaster ride, but my little brother was too afraid to get on when we got there.

The two sentences still convey the same message, but it flows more smoothly and is a little more formal in its delivery than two separate sentences. The revised sentence is also barely different from the original, making this method of avoiding sentences that start with “but” one of the best (source).

What Is the Word “but” and How Do We Use It?

You have used “but” in a sentence at least once, no matter your English proficiency level. For example, if you have ever said to someone, “I want to, but I can’t” or “I’m on the way, but I’ll be a little late,” you have successfully used “but” in a sentence.

It is usually one of the first sentence structures you learn to make and one of the first words your instructor will teach you to avoid. We have all used it, but using the word and understanding it are two completely different things.

To understand how to use “but,” we have to break it down, starting with what type of word it is. It can be a preposition, adverb, and, in rare cases, even a noun or pronoun. However, especially for our purposes, it is usually a conjunction.

What Is a Conjunction?

The word “but” is a type of conjunction. A conjunction is a type of word that we can use to hold together two words, two independent or dependent sentences, or two phrases or clauses. 

According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, there are three types of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, and correlative conjunctions.

What Is a Coordinating Conjunction?

Coordinating conjunctions usually work to bring two independent words, sentences, or phrases together into one sentence. The seven coordinating conjunctions are “or,” “so,” “for,” “nor,” “and,” “but,” and “yet.”

By coordinating two seemingly independent phrases to work together, coordinating conjunctions can smooth out choppy sentences for an easier read.

Here are some examples demonstrating how coordinating conjunctions can smooth out a sentence.

Example 1:  

“I was thinking about not coming. I’m here.”

If you look at this example’s structure, the short, choppy sentences read with an edgy tone. To smooth it out, you could add a coordinating conjunction.

“I was thinking about not coming, yet I’m here.”

The tone is a little less brash in this sentence, and the sentence is a smoother read.

Example 2:  

“I love to cook. I make dinner every night.”

In this example, the speaker sounds unnatural and, dare I say, a bit robotic as they describe their hobby. 

“I love to cook, so I make dinner every night.”

By adding a coordinating conjunction, this sentence becomes more natural and flows more evenly. 

What Is a Subordinating Conjunction?

We can use subordinating conjunctions to connect an independent sentence with a dependent one. There are many subordinating conjunctions, including “although,” “because,” “though,” “before,” “while,” “if,” and “when.”

Here are some examples of sentences with subordinating conjunctions.

Example 1:  

“I went straight to the principal’s office when we got back to school.”

In this example, “we got back to school” is a dependent sentence. When you add the subordinating conjunction, “when,” it connects going to the principal’s office with getting back to the school, making the sentence feel complete. 

Example 2:  

“You will always succeed if you try everything you can.”

In this example, “you try everything you can” is not a stand-alone sentence. Using the subordinating conjunction “if” lets you connect this dependent sentence with the stand-alone phrase.  

What Is a Correlative Conjunction?

Correlative conjunctions are sibling conjunction words or phrases that always come in pairs. Some correlative conjunction pairs, among others, are “either/or,” “as/as,” “not only/but also,” “both/and,” and “rather/than.”

They can either appear close together or far apart, but one cannot function properly in the sentence without the other. 

Here are some examples of sentences with correlative conjunction words and phrases. 

Example 1: 

As smart as Adam was, he could not score 100% on the exam.”

“As” and “as” work together in this sentence to form correlative conjunctions. Without one, the other doesn’t work.

Example 2: 

Either you stop jumping on the couch, or I’m turning off the TV.”

We positioned “either” and “or” far apart in this example, but they work closely together to establish the sentence’s meaning.

The Word “but” Is a Contrasting Coordinating Conjunction

The word “but” is a contrasting coordinating conjunction, meaning that it can help you combine contrasting thoughts, words, or phrases into one sentence (source).

Using one of the earlier examples, let’s look at how “but” helps combine contrasting sentences. 

Example 1: 

“I am on my way to a party. I am late for a party.”

It might sound strange if you were talking to someone and said these two sentences back to back. Using “but” to join the contrasting sentences would convey the message more naturally. 

“I am on my way to a party, but I am running a little late.” 

Example 2: 

“I want to eat the second piece of the pie. I can’t eat the second piece of the pie.”

Just like with the first example, saying both sentences, although technically correct, sound strange to native English speakers. Using a contrasting coordinating conjunction can smooth the flow to a more natural tone. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.

“I want to eat a second piece of pie, but I can’t.”

Image by Timothy Wolff via Unsplash

Final Thoughts

Starting a sentence with “but” is not grammatically wrong, but you should limit the term’s usage if you are writing in a more formal setting. Whether the rule we all learned as children is real or fake, teachers, professors, and potential clients all have their style preferences that you may need to know and follow to succeed.

If you must avoid using “but” at the beginning of a sentence, rewording or combining your sentences are always good places to start. 

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and a coordinator of educator training at UF - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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