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Language and Terminology

Let’s Get Started! What is the Best Way to Start a Sentence?

 

Teri Surprenant, Managing Editor, Language Editing

September 2020


What is the best way to start a sentence?

A sentence should begin with a capital letter. While this seems obvious, there are many writers who forget this simple rule. A capital letter grabs the reader’s attention and alerts them to an upcoming change in the text. The goal of constructing sentences is to clearly convey information without requiring the reader to make great stretches to understand what you are saying, which is why most sentences use a noun and a verb at the beginning. The appropriate start to a sentence and the correct punctuation at the end neatly frame your statement.

What words should be avoided at the beginning of a sentence?

Two of the biggest problems that authors encounter in papers is the use of numerals and coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) at the start of sentences. Let’s look at some incorrect examples and a few possible solutions.

Incorrect: “23 rats were randomly divided into several groups.”

Solution #1: “There were 23 rats that were randomly divided into several groups.” The writer can simply eliminate the issue by prefacing numerals with “There were.”

Solution #2: “Twenty-three rats were randomly divided into several groups.” While 1–9 are typically spelled out and numbers 10 and above are represented by numerals in many style guides, spelling out the number at the beginning of the sentence (no matter how small or large) is an acceptable way to convey the information and be grammatically.

Incorrect: “And 23 rats were randomly divided into several groups.”

Solution #1: To solve this problem, the writer can simply remove “and” from the beginning and then use one of the solutions mentioned above so that the numeral is not a problem.

Solution #2: The writer can also preface the sentence with “In addition” so it becomes: “In addition, 23 rats were randomly divided into several groups.”

Solution #3: Depending upon the sentence that precedes the one in question, the writer can also combine it with the previous sentence. Let’s say the first sentence is: “The rats were allowed to acclimate for two weeks.” The writer can put the two sentences together: “Twenty-three rats were allowed to acclimate for two weeks before they were randomly divided into several groups.”

Incorrect: “The cat chased the mouse. But the mouse got away.” Using a conjunction at the beginning can make a sentence seem abrupt, and there is a chance that the writer may produce a sentence fragment instead of a complete sentence.

What is the solution? Try substituting “however” to connect the sentences: “The cat chased the mouse; however, the mouse got away.” The sentence now has a more formal tone and the use of “however” requires a comma, which indicates a natural pause.


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