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Punctuating ‘however’

Mel Roome,
07 September 2020

‘However’ is similar in meaning to ‘but’, with a longer pause built in. What’s tricky is that ‘however’ isn’t interchangeable with ‘but’, and it’s punctuated differently. In fact, punctuating the word ‘however’ is about the most common problem we see as editors.

‘However’ is similar in meaning to ‘but’, with a longer pause built in. What’s tricky is that ‘however’ isn’t interchangeable with ‘but’, and it’s punctuated differently. In fact, punctuating the word ‘however’ is about the most common problem we see as editors.

Here are some guidelines:

But
But is a ‘conjunction’ in grammar, and it joins two parts of a sentence:

  1. I went to the supermarket to buy oranges, but there were none left. 
  2. Maddie ran a highly professional campaign but lost the election.

However
The way we most often use ‘however’ is as an adverb. Substituting ‘however’ where ‘but’ was used in (1) and (2) would therefore be incorrect. As I said, the two words are not grammatically interchangeable.

Think of ‘however’ as giving you a longer pause than ‘but’ does, and let’s see how correct punctuation helps with that:

3. I went to the supermarket to buy oranges. However, there were none left.

Rule: Split sentence into two, starting the second one with However, (Tip: remember the comma). 

4.Maddie ran a highly professional campaign; however, she lost the election.

Rule: Split into two using a semicolon; again, ‘however’ must be followed by a comma and note in this example we had to insert ‘she’ as this part of the sentence must be an ‘independent clause’, meaning it also needs a subject – ‘she’.

Your turn
Correct these examples (there are 4 possible answers at the foot):

5. The Bill was passed by the lower house, however it was blocked by the Senate. (Incorrect)

6. Jim had lots of experience however wasn’t right for the job. (Incorrect)

There are other ways of using ‘however’, such as ‘However hard he tried, …’ but that’s enough for today.

***************
Corrected versions of 5 and 6

5. The Bill was passed by the lower house, however it was blocked by the Senate. (Incorrect)

5a.  The Bill was passed by the lower house. However, it was blocked by the Senate.
5b.  The Bill was passed by the lower house; however, it was blocked by the Senate.
5c.  The Bill was passed by the lower house, but it was blocked by the Senate.
5d.  The Bill was passed by the lower house but was blocked by the Senate.

6. Jim had lots of experience however wasn’t right for the job. (Incorrect)

6a.  Jim had lots of experience. However, he wasn’t right for the job.
6b.  Jim had lots of experience; however, he wasn’t right for the job.
6c.  Jim had lots of experience, but he wasn’t right for the job.
6d.  Jim had lots of experience but wasn’t right for the job.

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