Can you start a sentence with 'he,' 'she' or 'they'?

“Good sentences don’t start with He/She/They.”

That’s a lesson that, according to a Twitter post, a teacher recently passed on to a child.

In context, the lesson seems a little less atrocious: The teacher was talking about the first sentence in a child’s answer to an essay question, meaning the child’s own writing hadn’t yet named an antecedent for the pronoun. In that case, maybe it’s a good idea to teach kids to use a full noun, like Joe, before you start referring to that noun with a pronoun, like “he.”

But that’s not what the teacher said, so the lesson a child would walk away with, carrying it with him for his lifetime, is that it’s bad to start a sentence with one of those pronouns.

You probably don’t need me to tell you that’s ridiculous. But to illustrate, I thought I’d take a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel off my bookshelf and see how well it lives up to this teacher’s high standards. Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” which won the prize for fiction, has on its first page a sentence starting with “he.” On page two, four sentences start with “he.” On page three, seven sentences start with “he.” Another Pulitzer winner, Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys,” has its first sentence-commencing “he” on page one of chapter one, with lots more on subsequent pages.

So, no. It’s not true that good sentences can’t start with “he,” “she” or “they," as I explain fully in this recent column.

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