And Lizzie Borden

Lizzie BordenThis is something I hear a lot, “But isn’t it wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction?” (When I read it, there is no conjunction at the beginning of that sentence.) And I always reply, “You learned that in grammar school, didn’t you?” And they always respond in the affirmative.

I don’t know what these teachers are thinking, but I have a guess. Before we get to that, however, remember that grammar school teachers say a lot of things that are wrong. I believe that the rule against starting sentences with a conjunction is to avoid writing like this:

Lizzie Borden was crazy. And one day she got real mad at her parents. And she went into the barn. And she picked up an ax. And she went into her mother’s room. And she gave her mother forty whacks. And then she went to her father’s room. And she gave him forty whacks. And then she gave him another.[1]

Don’t write like that. But don’t worry about starting a sentence with a conjunction, either.

[1] Much better is the creepily cheery poem:

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.
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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “And Lizzie Borden

  1. You are such a delight. Only a pedantic grammatical demagogue would think of using Lizzie Borden’s murderous rampage to make a point about the use of conjunctions.

    Your version of the "poem" illustrates perfectly why that rule was invented. If you’ve ever listened to a anecdote as explained by a four-year-old, you would know how annoying excessive conjunctions can be. But I agree with you.

  2. Morwalk: Perhaps so. Look her up. Her life was quite interesting.

    Andrea: And exactly what didn’t you get? Your point about how four-year-olds tell stories was exactly my point. I thought it was pretty obvious–even idiot adults don’t tell stories so badly. I am curious if people have any other ideas for the prohibition.

    As for "Only a pedantic grammatical demagogue would think of using Lizzie Borden’s murderous rampage to make a point about the use of conjunctions": thank you!

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