Starting a Sentence with "However"

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
Can you start a sentence with "however"?

Yes. It is perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with "however." In fact, starting a sentence with "however" should be encouraged not discouraged. Here are the options:
  • I like oats. However, I cannot eat granola bars.
  • (This is the most common way of using "however.")
  • I like oats; however, I cannot eat granola bars.
  • (Using a semicolon is another common way of using "however." Don't overuse semicolons though. They quickly get annoying.)
  • I like oats. I cannot, however, eat granola bars.
  • (Moving your "however" farther down the sentence is another option.)
  • I like oats, however, I cannot eat granola bars.
  • (Using a comma before "however" is not an option. This is called a run-on error.)
When "however" means nevertheless or but (as in the examples above), 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 granola bars.
  • (Here, "however" means nevertheless or but.)
  • I like oats. However much I try, I cannot eat granola bars.
  • (Here, "however" means to whatever extent.)
starting a sentence with however

Starting 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 a common writing error. For example:
  • Good leaders must communicate vision clearly, creatively, and continually. However, the vision doesn't come alive until the leader models it. (Author 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 or the comma splice.)
Read more about run-on errors.

Starting a Sentence with "However" Has Some Dissenters

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. (Actor 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. (Author 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. (Tennis player Bjorn Borg)
  • (Here, "However" means to whatever extent.)
  • However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. (Theoretical physicist 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.

The Difference between "However" and "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 coordinating 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 coordinating 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 coordinating 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" (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. (Actor Walter Koenig)
  • (Here, "however" means nevertheless or but. It has been preceded by a semicolon instead of a period to give a smoother transition between the two "sentences," which have now become independent clauses.)
Read more about using semicolons.

"However" Looks Odd!

If you have an OCD-style aversion to starting a sentence with "however," then you can usually place it farther down your sentence.

When you do this, it is usual (but not essential) to offset it with commas. 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. (Actor Walter Koenig)
  • Religious tolerance is something we should all practise. There have, however, been more atrocities committed in the name of religion than anything else.
The practice of sliding your "however" down the sentence to avoid putting it at the start ought to be discouraged. The best place to put any conjunctive adverb (the function of which is to bridge the ideas in two sentences) is at the start of the second idea.
  • [sentence 1] [bridge] [sentence 2]
  • (This scans far better than the version below.)
  • [sentence 1] [part of sentence 2] [bridge] [next part of sentence 2]
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

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)