The Proper Use and Punctuation of ‘However’

Can you start your sentence with ‘however?’ How about using ‘however’ in the middle of a sentence? It is certainly a very useful word. However, one must be mindful of the various regulations that dictate whenever and however we use it!  

To mean ‘but’ 

One of the most common ways we see the word ‘however’ used is to mean ‘but.’ Usually, the word comes at the beginning of a sentence and is followed by a comma. Like this:

Their schedule claimed there was a conference at 6 pm. However, the building was closed, and there was no one around. 

To use ‘however’ in this way, the word must be placed in the middle of the sentence and have commas on both sides

It was 6 pm. The building, however, was closed. 

You can also put it in the end, after a comma.

Usually, they meet at 6 pm to discuss plans for the next day. They go home on Fridays, however. 

But it is wrong to place ‘however’ between two parts of a sentence that make sense by themselves.  

He usually drives quite fast, however that day he was being careful is actually incorrect. You can use ‘but’ here instead since it is a conjunction (a word that joins two phrases). When ‘however’ means ‘but,’ it is not considered a conjunction

Related: Subordinating Conjunctions – What Are They?

He usually drives fast. However, he was being careful that day is grammatically correct. 

Another way to use ‘however’ in instances when phrases can stand alone (as in the example above) is to use a semi-colon instead of the full stop. You will still need to put a comma after ‘however.’ like so:

He usually drives fast; however, he was careful that day.  

To mean ‘no matter how’

Another meaning for the word ‘however,’ albeit less common, is ‘no matter how.’ You can put it in the middle of a sentence without a comma following it.  

I can’t wake up in the morning to run before work, however hard I try.  

With this meaning, you can also put ‘however’ at the beginning of the sentence, without a comma after it.  

However many times I told the kids to clean their room, it was always messy.   

Be careful not to accidentally put a comma after ‘however’ in this instance, or you could change the meaning of the phrase.

However, many times I told the kids to clean their room, it was always messy. 

If you are defending your parenting methods by stating that you did tell the kids to clean the room many times, the comma should really be a full stop or a semi-colon.

To mean ‘in whatever way’ 

When used in this way, ‘however’ can be put at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence, with no punctuation around it. 

I will be happy to travel there however you want. Be it by car, air or train!

I will talk to him however I want. He is my brother, after all. 

Good substitutes

If you are writing a long document, and you need to connect from one paragraph to another, it’s easy to overuse the word ‘however’ (meaning ‘but’). Below are some good alternatives to keep your writing varied: 

  • even so,
  • howbeit,
  • nevertheless,
  • notwithstanding,
  • nonetheless,
  • still and all,
  • still,
  • though,

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