Using a Comma after a Conjunctive Adverb like "However"

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
When a term like "However," "As a result," or "Consequently" starts a sentence, it should be followed by a comma. (These terms are called conjunctive adverbs or "transitional phrases.")

A conjunctive adverb usually sits at the start of a sentence to act like a bridge to an idea in the previous sentence. For example:
  • She is a fantastic cook. However, she uses too much salt.
  • (A conjunctive adverb is followed by a comma. A conjunctive adverb is not preceded by a comma.)
It is possible to use a semicolon before a conjunctive adverb for a smoother transition between your "sentences."
  • She is a fantastic cook; however, she uses too much salt.
  • (The sentences have now become independent clauses.)

Using a Comma after a Conjunctive Adverb like "However"

It is common for a sentence to start with an introduction that acts like a bridge to the previous sentence. The introduction makes the transition between the two sentences smoother. (It is known as a conjunctive adverb or a "transitional phrase.")

A conjunctive adverb usually appears at the start of a sentence and is followed by a comma. For example:
  • Bruce Leonard spent 4 years in Japan studying Kung Fu. As a result, he is often able to predict moves by Japanese opponents.
  • ("As a result" is a conjunctive adverb. It acts like a bridge between the previous sentence and the new one. It is followed by a comma.)
  • Mark was separated from his twin sister when they were both one. Of course, it was often said that the girl next door looked a little like him, but no one had any reason to think they might be related.
  • ("Of course" is a conjunctive adverb.)
  • We are only looking for 6 new people. In summary, 70% of you will fail the course.
You can use a semicolon before your conjunctive adverb for a smoother transition between your "sentences." For example:
  • I was her personal butler for over 10 years. Therefore, I will not tolerate sloppy work.
  • He missed half of the classes while training for the Olympics. Consequently, his techniques are flawed.
  • To Bruce's relief, the shark slowly swam off. However, Bruce suspected that the shark had just made its first pass.
comma before however

Don't Use a Comma before "However"

The word "However" is a common conjunctive adverb. It is just like the other conjunctive adverbs, but it deserves a special mention because writers often mistakenly precede it with a comma. For example:
  • I don't like cake. However, I love scones.
  • I don't like cake; however, I love scones.
  • I don't like cake, however, I love scones.
When "However" is being used as a conjunctive adverb, preceding it with a comma is a mistake called a run-on sentence.

Don't Overuse Semicolons

Conjunctive adverbs are useful because they keep ideas flowing between sentences. Most of them should be preceded by periods (full stops). If you use semicolons before every conjunctive adverb, you will annoy your readers. Semicolons are great in moderation. Hold them back for when you want a really smooth transition between two sentences.

Read more about using semicolons.

You Will See a Comma before "However"

Like the other conjunctive adverbs, the word "however" can be used like a mid-sentence parenthesis. For example:
  • Toby likes fishing. Trevor, however, is a fanatic.
When used mid-sentence like this, a word like "however" should be offset from the rest of the sentence using commas or other parenthetical punctuation (e.g., dashes).

Not a Comma

Remember that you cannot use a comma before a conjunctive adverb like "however" when it starts a new sentence (or indepedent clause). For example:
  • I cannot come on Tuesday, however, Peter will be there.
  • (This is a common error – especially with "however.")
Read more about the error known as a run-on sentence.

A Video Summary on Using Conjunctive Adverbs

Here is a short video on how to use conjunctive adverbs like "however":

Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Using commas (a summary) Our big commas test Run-on errors with commas Using semicolons before transitional phrases (e.g. however) Using semicolons to extend a sentence Commas after a sentence introductions Commas after interjections (yes, no, indeed) Commas before conjunctions (and, or, but) Commas for parenthesis Commas in lists Commas with a long subject Commas with numbers Commas with quotation (speech) marks Commas with the vocative case Commas with Dear, Hello, and Hi