30th January 2016
How to Use the Word “However”
The adverb “however” is one that causes some confusion, so it’s important to use it correctly in your academic writing.
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.
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