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November 22, 2017

I was recently reading Silver on the Tree, the last in Susan Cooper’s children’s fantasy series, The Dark is Rising; and I noticed how many sentences she uses beginning with And. (‘And then through the mist came flying a pair of swans…’; ‘And through the swaying branches they could see the mistletoe…’; ‘And then the ship Pridwen was upon them” etc etc).

I’m not concerned here with the primary school shibboleth that one shouldn’t start sentences with And (or But). I think it’s fine to start sentences with conjunctions if you want. Many great writers, such as Dickens, do it all the time. What I’m interested in here is the effect that Cooper achieves by it: that is, to attain a tone of high seriousness, of epic heroism that sounds almost religious. And that of course is the answer; it is religious in tone, being inspired by all those verses in the King James Bible that start with And: And the Earth was without form, and void; And God said let there be light; And God saw that it was good; And the Lord God planted a garden; And Noah built an altar; And it came to pass, etc etc etc.

But this gives rise to a further question: why do so many verses in the Bible begin with And? The answer is that this results from the translation from the Hebrew which the bishops and scholars made for James I in 1611. In Hebrew there is a letter vov, written ‫  ו ‬ and pronounced v, which when used as a prefix means ‘and’. Thus yom v’layloh = ‘day and night’. When tagged onto the front of verb it can change the tense. (I owe these facts to a member of my WEA philosophy class, who studied Hebrew as a boy). This letter frequently opens verses in the original Hebrew text as an indicator of tense, but was consistently translated by the bishops as ‘And’.

And in consequence, because of those Biblical associations, some 400 years later Susan Cooper can write a sentence like ‘And on our roads, on the old ways, the green grass grows’ and it sounds all dignified and exalted.

And here ends my blog post.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    And of course Jerusalem.
    There is an old question about a sentence which contains five Ands in succession. And makes sense.
    And it’s goodnight from me.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    And it has the advantage that it enables the writer to bring in a new point without disrupting the flow, or taking away from the effect, of whatever has gone before. And that must be a good thing.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    And now for something completely different.

  4. Mark Brafield permalink

    And now, the end is near …. (that enough Ands – ed).

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