But how is this term used? And how do you make its meaning clear in your written work? It’s all a matter of punctuation…
This sense of “however” typically means “to whatever extent” or “in whatever manner”:
I’ll catch you one day, however far you run!
It’s not a formal event, so dress however you want.
Note that in the examples above, there’s no punctuation between “however” and the thing it’s modifying (i.e., distance/mode of dress).
Another (less common) use of this term is as a synonym for “how.” More specifically, it means “how under the circumstances,” so is typically used when referring to something challenging:
However do proofreaders remember all those grammatical rules?
As above, you’ll notice there is no punctuation between “however” and the rest of the sentence.
When this term is used as a conjunctive adverb to connect two contrasting points, it should be followed by a comma:
I had planned to go out today. It was rainy, however, so I stayed inside.
The initial results were positive. Further testing, however, is still required.
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Here, it is being used to contrast the latter sentence with the former. As such, we can reformulate these sentences to use “but” instead:
I had planned to go out today, but it was rainy, so I stayed inside.
The initial results were positive, but further testing is still required.
Can I Start a Sentence with However?
Since “however” can substitute for “but,” some claim it shouldn’t be used at the beginning of a sentence. Nevertheless, even if the idea that you shouldn’t use a conjunction like this were true, it wouldn’t apply in this case.
Unlike the coordinating conjunction “but,” “however” is not used to link two independent clauses in a single sentence. As such, if you want to use it to contrast two points, you need to make sure they are both complete sentences.
Beginning a sentence with “however” can even emphasize a contrast, since it flows more smoothly, foregrounds the comparison and ensures clarity:
The initial results were positive. However, further testing is still required.
But if you don’t want to use this term at the beginning of a new sentence, you can also connect two sentences with a semicolon:
The initial results were positive; however, further testing is still required.
However you choose to use “however,” however, make sure you punctuate correctly so that your reader will understand what you mean.