Starting a Sentence with However

The Quick Answer
Can you start a sentence with However?

Yes. It is perfectly fine to start a sentence with However. In fact, starting a sentence with However should be encouraged not discouraged. However, if you cannot bring yourself to do it, you can precede your However at the start of your sentence with a semicolon (not a comma) or slide it further down your sentence and offset it with commas. For example:
  • I like oats. However, I cannot eat flapjacks.
  • I like oats; however, I cannot eat flapjacks.
  • (This quickly gets annoying. Don't overuse semicolons.)
  • I like oats. I cannot, however, eat flapjacks.
  • (This does not scan as well for readers.)
When however means nevertheless, it is followed with a comma. When however means to whatever extent, there is no comma after it. For example:
  • I like oats. However, I cannot eat flapjacks.
  • I like oats. However much I try, I cannot eat flapjacks.

You Can Start a Sentence with However

For no good reason, lots of writers dislike starting a sentence with however. However, you can start a sentence with however. In fact, starting a sentence with however is a clear way to link a new sentence to the previous sentence, which is the primary function of a conjunctive adverb like however.

The loathing for starting a sentence with however causes lots of writers to use a comma before however and then write a new sentence. This is an error. In fact, it is the most common error associated with however. For example:
  • Good leaders must communicate vision clearly, creatively, and continually. However, the vision doesn't come alive until the leader models it. (John C. Maxwell)
  • Good leaders must communicate vision clearly, creatively, and continually, however, the vision doesn't come alive until the leader models it.
  • (Using a comma before however and starting a new sentence is called a run-on error.)

It's a Common Misconception with Powerful Supporters

In 2015, British MP Michael Gove (Britain's Secretary of State for Justice and formerly the Secretary of State for Education) sent a note to his staff instructing them never to start a sentence with however. This advice is also included in "The Elements of Style," a popular style guide in the US. However, there is no good reason for this "rule," which is causing writers to litter their work with run-on errors as they opt for a comma before however.
Starting a sentence with However should be encouraged not discouraged.

When To Use a Comma After However

The word however has two meanings. It can mean nevertheless and to whatever extent. For example:
  • Religious tolerance is something we should all practise. However, there have been more atrocities committed in the name of religion than anything else. (Walter Koenig)
  • (Here, However means nevertheless or but.)
  • While conscience is our friend, all is at peace. However, once it is offended, farewell to a tranquil mind. (Mary Wortley Montagu)
  • (Here, However means nevertheless or but.)
  • I never give up in a match. However down I am, I fight until the last ball. (Bjorn Borg)
  • (Here, However means to whatever extent.)
  • However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. (Stephen Hawking)
  • (Here, However means to whatever extent.)
Here is the ruling on using a comma after however:
When however means nevertheless, it is followed with a comma. When however means to whatever extent, there is no comma after it.

However Is Not the Same As But

Even though the word however can mean the same as but, they are grammatically different. However is a conjunctive adverb (like therefore, consequently, and nevertheless), and it is used to link the ideas either side of it. But is a coordinate conjunction (like and, or and yet), and it is used to join the like-for-like elements either side of it.

Of course, it is possible to start a sentence with but, but this is using but as a conjunctive adverb and not a coordinate conjunction, which works given it means the same as however. Of note, when but is used at the start of sentence, lots of writers like to follow it with a comma to recognize its role as a conjunctive adverb and not a coordinate conjunction.

Using a Semicolon before However

To give a smoother transition between sentences, a semicolon can be used instead of a period / full stop. This means the word however (particularly when it means nevertheless or but) can be preceded by a semicolon. For example:
  • Religious tolerance is something we should all practise; however, there have been more atrocities committed in the name of religion than anything else. (Walter Koenig)
  • (Here, however means nevertheless or but. It has been preceded by a semicolon instead of a period / full stop to give a smoother transition between the two "sentences," which have now become independent clauses.)
Read more about using semicolons.

See Also

What are conjunctive adverbs? What is a run-on error? What is a coordinate conjunction? Using semicolons Starting a sentence with and or but What is an independent clause? Commas before conjunctions (and, or, but)