Based in Noblesville, Indiana, Curtis writes the syndicated humor column, Grammar Guy. His hilarious-yet-thoughtful book will be available in May 2020.

Say it ain’t ‘so’

Say it ain’t ‘so’

When your significant other starts a conversation with, “So, we need to talk,” you know it’s over. You immediately flip through the pages of your relationship, scanning for any glaring issues or things for which you should be sorry. You’re on the defensive. You might even think about who gets to keep which friend after the impending break-up. 

Some—perhaps many—people believe fervently it’s not kosher to begin a sentence with “so.” I’m here to advocate for the use of “so” as an acceptable sentence starter. If this is a dealbreaker for the relationship between you and me, then I agree that it’s time for us to start seeing other people.

“So” is a coordinating conjunction. This type of conjunction’s prime purpose is to join other sentence elements that go together. In case you’re wondering, it’s easy to remember English’s seven coordinating conjunctions—just remember “fanboys.” Fanboys stands for “for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so.” So, if this type of conjunction joins related parts of a sentence, how is it acceptable to start a sentence with one? I thought you’d never ask.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, “There is a widespread belief — one with no historical or grammatical foundation — that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.”

If your mind isn’t blown yet, consider the famous last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The fact is, as Chicago points out, we’ve been cool with starting sentences with prepositions for quite a long time. With “so,” we use it to mean thus, therefore, or accordingly.

While we could probably connect sentences that begin with “so” to prior sentences with semicolons to show the connection between the two thoughts, we don’t need to do this in everyday speech. If you’re addressing the U.N., maybe try to avoid starting a sentence with “so.” Otherwise, you have my permission to “so” away.

Who are you calling an idiom?

Who are you calling an idiom?