So (sentence opener)

So is an English word that, apart from its other uses, has become increasingly popular in recent years as a coordinating conjunctive opening word in a sentence. This device is particularly used when answering questions although the questioner may also use the device.

Historical useEdit

The first known written use of so as a sentence opener is in several lines of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, published in the mid-1380s, for example:[1][2]

So graunte hem sone out of this world to pace (So grant him soon out of this world to pass);

So as a sentence opener has been used in later historical literary works such as:[1]

It is widely believed that the recent ascendancy of so as a sentence opener began in Silicon Valley. Michael Lewis, in his book The New New Thing, published in 1999, noted that “When a computer programmer answers a question, he often begins with the word ‘so.’ ” Microsoft employees have long argued that the “so” boom began with them.[1][2][3]


Various suggestions have been made as to its purpose:

  • as a coordinating conjunctive to refer backwards to something previously mentioned
  • as a discourse marker[4][5]
  • to signal that the following words are chosen for their relevance to the listener[6]
  • to provide a small amount of extra thinking time[7]

In his Modern English translation of Beowulf, Irish poet Seamus Heaney uses "So." to translate the single-word opening line, Hwæt! (also rendered 'lo', 'hark', 'listen', etc). He explains that "in Hiberno-English Scullion-speak [...] 'so' operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, 'so' it was".[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Melissa (23 September 2015). "So, When Did We Start Introducing Sentences with So?". Today I Found Out. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  2. ^ a b Anand Giridharadas (21 May 2010). "Follow My Logic? A Connective Word Takes the Lead". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Origins of using "so" as a sentence opener Boing Boing Mark Frauenfelder 17 June 2010
  4. ^ Goldberg, Haley (14 February 2014). "So… why is everyone saying "so?"". USA Today.
  5. ^ Bolden, Galina B. (2009). "Implementing incipient actions: The discourse marker 'so' in English conversation". Journal of Pragmatics. 41 (5): 974–998. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2008.10.004.
  6. ^ "Do you use "so" to manage conversations?".
  7. ^ Mason, Mark (5 November 2011). "It's so annoying. So why do people feel compelled to start every sentence with 'so'?". The Spectator.
  8. ^ Seamus Heaney (19 February 2009). Beowulf. Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-25072-1.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit