Can you start a sentence with or?

Many writers struggle with knowing whether a sentence can be started with the word or. For most of us, starting a sentence with a conjunction was always a big no-no when it came to high-school English classes. But in fact, we can use a conjunction such as or, but, so etc. to start a sentence, we just have to be careful when doing so.

One of the main reasons some people rail against us for using a conjunction at the start is because it can result in fragmented sentences. However, a few conjunctions at the start of a sentence can actually create more of an impact, especially if there’s something that needs emphasising.

So now, we will show you how to use or properly and get you a little bit more creative with your writing.

Coordinating conjunctions

These are the words like so, but, or, yet, and, for that we mentioned earlier. Beginning a sentence with one of these words simply helps to emphasise what you’re saying.

I think you should take the red dress or the dress with flowers.

I think you should take the red dress. Or, the dress with flowers.

Especially when writing fiction, the latter sentence structure is very commonly used as it makes the second option more dramatic. If you’re trying to make a point standout, then using a conjunction at the start is the way to go. However, you will need to follow it with a comma when the conjunction is starting the sentence.

Why don’t writers like it?

There are reasons though for why many writers, and indeed our teachers, don’t like us using a conjunction at the start of a sentence and that’s because it can result in fragmented sentences. A sentence fragment is a clause that doesn’t have all the three main components that a sentence needs to have, namely a verb, subject and complete thought. If a sentence is missing just one of these, it becomes a sentence fragment.

It can be easy to miss out on spotting sentence fragments, especially in your own work as they often look like real sentences.

Example: Or the one on the right.

As it’s on its own, this sentence doesn’t make sense. What is the or for? What was the other option in this scenario? To make it complete, we need more of the sentence.

This can be completed in one of two ways:

Correct: We could take the corridor on the left or the one on the right.

Correct: We could take the corridor on the left. Or, we can go to the one on the right.

It’s really that simple! Maybe it would have been easier if we have been taught to just write in complete sentences rather than telling us not to start a sentence with a conjunction at all. In fact, there is no rule anywhere that says we can’t start a sentence with a conjunction. That’s right; it’s not actually a rule!

Final thoughts

Yes, that was another conjunction starting a sentence. While or can be used at the start of a sentence — like all conjunctions — it is, admittedly, a little harder to use than most. Unless emphasising something to the reader, it’s still a good idea to avoid starting a sentence with or just in case you get those awkward sentence fragments. If in doubt, read your work aloud to help in picking them out.

To find out how to put some of those other conjunctions at the start of a sentence, check out our Topcontent blog for more.

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About the author

Tanya Erzinclioglu
Editorial Writer for TOPCONTENT.COM