Punctuation before "However"

by Craig Shrives

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What punctuation should I use before "however"?

Writers often ask whether they should use a period (full stop), a semicolon, or a comma before a word like "however."

Use a period (full stop) or a semicolon before "however" when it joins two sentences. Do not use a comma. Using a comma before "however" (or any other conjunctive adverb) is a common writing mistake called a run-on sentence.
  • I asked Tom. However, I'm not convinced he knows.
  • I asked Tom; however, I'm not convinced he knows.
  • (A semicolon is an option. Don't do it too often though. Hold it in reserve for when you want a smooth transition between your two sentences. As a rule, you don't want a smooth transition with "however." An abrupt restart is usually more appropriate.)
Let's be clear about one thing: you cannot use a comma.
  • I asked Tom, however, I'm not convinced he knows.
Words or phrases like "however," "as a result," "consequently" are called conjunctive adverbs. Just like "however," conjunctive adverbs are usually capitalized and used to start a new sentence. However, if you would like a smoother transition between your two sentences, you can use a semicolon before your "however."
comma or semicolon before however

More about the Punctuation before "However"

The word "however" is often used as a bridge between two sentences. For example:
  • I love seafood. However, I can't eat shellfish.
When "however" is used like this, it is called a "transitional phrase" or a conjunctive adverb. Other common transitional phrases are "consequently," "subsequently," "therefore," and "as a result." Read more about conjunctive adverbs.

Use a Comma after "However"

When "however" is used as a transitional phrase, there is always a comma after it but never before.
  • I missed the early plane, however, I still made the meeting.
  • (The first comma is wrong. The second one is correct. You must use a comma after any transitional phrase, not just "however.")

More Examples with Periods and Semicolons

Remember that a transitional phrase will usually start a new sentence, but if you would like a smoother transition than that afforded by a period, you can use a semicolon.

Here are some examples (transitional phrases shaded):
  • I missed the early plane. However, I still made the meeting.
  • (Most of the time, your transitional phrase should start a new sentence.)
  • I missed the early plane; however, I still made the meeting.
  • (Occasionally, you can use a semicolon to create a smoother transition between your "sentences." NB: They are now independent clauses not sentences.)
Here are more examples:
  • Everyone knows he is guilty. However, it will never be proved.
  • Everyone knows he is guilty; however, it will never be proved.
  • Sarah's guest was turned away by the doorman. As a result, she left before the presentations.
  • Sarah's guest was turned away by the doorman; as a result, she left before the presentations.
  • Business is booming. For example, Siemens has made 10 orders since 4 o'clock yesterday.
  • Business is booming; for example, Siemens has made 10 orders since 4 o'clock yesterday.
  • The paper is stuck in the lift. Consequently, we cannot finish the printing.
  • The paper is stuck in the lift; consequently, we cannot finish the printing.

Not a Comma!

Remember that you cannot use a comma before "however" or any other transitional phrase. For example:
  • She does not loathe chess, on the contrary, she quite likes it.
  • (The term "on the contrary" is a transitional phrase. You cannot merge two sentences into one with a comma. You must either start a new sentence or use a semicolon. This is known as a run-on error.)
Here are two more wrong examples:
  • My security guards are not trained in fire-fighting, therefore, we called the fire service.
  • It is extremely foggy, nevertheless, the game will be played.

Start a New Sentence Nine Times out of Ten

Generally speaking, a period is by far the better option. Terms like "however" and "as a result" work better with a more abrupt start. Read more about using semicolons.

The Main Culprit is "However"

The run-on error is most commonly seen with the word "however."
  • I am leaving now, however, I will be back on Wednesday to collect my wages.

Be Careful with "So"

When "so" means "therefore," it is a transitional phrase and should be followed by a comma not preceded by one. Like all transitional phrases, it should be preceded with a period or a semicolon. For example:
  • We are not in a position to fund the changes. So, the current system will remain until at least April when it will be reviewed again.

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See Also

Commas after a transitional phrase Extend a sentence Using semicolons before conjunctions (and, or, but, etc.) Using semicolons in lists Using semicolons to extend a sentence

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