But…I Meant to Fragment

I have a confession to make: I am in the midst of a love affair with the comma. I didn’t mean for it to happen, really. I didn’t even know it was going on until I was so deep in it I couldn’t stop. I cannot describe my love for the comma.

I should probably start by explaining my deepest desire: rhythmic writing. That being said, I need commas to direct my reader when to pause, to breathe, to take a half beat and bask in the lilting language. Now, I know that commas can become a crutch, and I fight that fight every day, but I refuse to give up what I have made with the comma.

Photo Credit: Denise Krebs

On the other hand, it comes to that moment, the moment when I want to put a period and know, according to “the rules” I must put a comma, the moment that makes my nose itch and my back twitch, the moment when grammar tells me I cannot start a sentence with “but.”I can still hear my elementary school teachers reciting their usual reminders, “We never, ever start sentences with ‘but’ or ‘because.'”

“But I need to!” I whine, to no one in particular, since the voice of grammar is only in my head, scolding me for such lazy linguistics.

Let’s face it, sometimes, a sentence just needs to start with “but.” I know that some of you reading this will shake your heads vigorously, crying out, “It isn’t so!” BUT…it’s the truth. When writing freely and rhythmically, in the voice of a person or a person’s consciousness, beginning with “but” is all that makes sense. When I fight my urge and follow the rule, I can imagine my character halting in his or her action  just long enough to look into the fourth dimension that is my vision of them and accuse me: “People don’t really talk like that. I’m the one talking, and I want to start my next sentence with but.”

This brings me to my next annoyance: the green squiggly grammar line in Microsoft Word telling me that I have created a fragment, my sentence is not complete. In fact, Spell Check, that sentence is complete. It is exactly how I wanted it.

Now, I admit, sometimes Word gets me out of some pretty embarrassing misadventures in writing. However, I have self-diagnosed my mild OCD, and I hate to see that little green line disrupting the serenity of my beautifully black and white page.


What grammar rules can you not live without? What grammar rules irk you to your core?

2 thoughts to “But…I Meant to Fragment”

  1. Breanna,

    I really love this post because I share a lot of your sentiments. I write for the opinion section of the Michigan Daily, and in a forum where the pieces are supposed to argue something in a distinguishable voice, I’ve often lamented over the “But” dilemma. I love starting sentences that way because it’s a simple way to mimic the flow of language – real language that we speak every day. I’m definitely prone to overusing commas as well. They just look so pretty speckling my sentences.

    Great job!


  2. Breanna,

    This post really resonated with me because I think the comma is one of the greatest things that ever came about. There is nothing like a paper that has well-placed comma’s, and also nothing worse than a paper with poorly placed ones. I think the reason that there is so much frustration surrounding them is that people often forget when they should, or should not be used.

    Similarly, I feel your frustration with Word trying to correct things that don’t need correction. Oftentimes I write a sentence exactly the way I want it to be structured, but then have to stare at the highly annoying squiggles on Word telling me I wanted to phrase it differently. No, I wrote it the way I wanted to. My advice? Stick to your guns, and don’t let a computer govern your stylistic choices.


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