Using a Comma before "However"

by Craig Shrives

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A Comma before "However"

It is a common grammar mistake to use a comma before "however" when "however" bridges two ideas. For example:
  • I hate potatoes, however, I like chips.
  • (You cannot merge two sentences into one with a comma and "however.")
comma before however

More about "However"

The word "however" is a conjunctive adverb. Other common conjunctive adverbs are "furthermore," "consequently," and "as a result." Read more about conjunctive adverbs. Here's the rule: You cannot put a comma before a conjunctive adverb.
  • I know it is difficult, however, it is worth the trouble.
You must use a period (full stop) or — if you want a smoother transition between the two sentences — a semicolon. For example:
  • I know it is difficult. However, it is worth the trouble.
  • (In this example, "however" acts like a bridge between two sentences.)
  • I know it is difficult; however, it is worth the trouble.
  • (In this similar example, "however" acts like a bridge between two independent clauses. The word "however" merges the two clauses to form a compound sentence.)
Using a comma before a conjunctive adverb like "however" is a common mistake. This mistake is understandable because you can use a comma before a coordinate conjunction (e.g., "and," "but," "or"). For example:
  • I know it is difficult, but it is worth the trouble.
  • I like fried potatoes, and I adore mashed potato.

Start a New Sentence or Use a Semicolon

A conjunctive adverb (e.g., "however," "furthermore," "consequently") provides a transition (i.e., acts like a bridge) between the first independent clause and the second. For this reason, conjunctive adverbs are also known as "transitional phrases."

You can use a semicolon before a conjunctive adverb, or you can start a new sentence. You should use a semicolon when the ideas are closely related, and you want a smooth flow of text from one idea to the next. You should not overuse semicolons though as they quickly become annoying, and using them too often also diminishes the smoothing effect between the clauses. Most conjunctive adverbs should be written with a capital letter and start a new sentence. For example:
  • I hate potatoes. However, I like chips.
  • (Most of your conjunctive adverbs should look like this.)
  • I hate potatoes; however, I like chips.
  • (A semicolon can be used for a smoother transition. Don't overuse semicolons.)
Read more about semicolons before transitional phrases like "however."

Using a Comma before "However"

Of course, there are times when a comma can be used before "however." This is when "however" is a parenthesis (i.e., additional information that can be removed with no loss of meaning). For example:
  • Lee does not like coke because it is too fizzy. He does, however, drink lots of fruit juice.
  • Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence. (Psychologist Peter A. Levine)
When used as a parenthesis, "however" will be in the middle or at the end of a clause. It should be offset with commas.

Using a Comma After "However"

Bear in mind that "however" has two meanings. It can mean "nevertheless" (as seen in all the examples so far), but it can also mean "to whatever extent." For example:

"However" meaning "nevertheless" or "but"
  • Religious tolerance is something we should all have. However, there have been more atrocities committed in the name of religion than anything else. (Actor Walter Koenig)
  • (In this example, "However" means "nevertheless" or "but.")
  • While conscience is our friend, all is at peace. However, once it is offended, farewell to a tranquil mind. (Writer Mary Wortley Montagu)
  • (In this example, "However" means "nevertheless" or "but.")
"However" meaning "to whatever extent"
  • I never give up in a match. However down I am, I fight until the last ball. (Tennis player Bjorn Borg)
  • (In this example, "however" means "to whatever extent.")
  • However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. (Physicist Stephen Hawking)
  • (In this example, "however" means "to whatever extent.")
Bearing these two meanings in mind, here is the rule on using a comma after "however":

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.

A Lesson Summary

The word "however" is not a conjunction (like "but"). It is a conjunctive adverb (like "subsequently"). When "however" starts a new idea and provides a bridge to the previous idea, it cannot be preceded by a comma. It can be preceded by a semicolon, but, most often, it should start a new sentence. For example:
  • I think she'll win, however, I have some concerns.
  • I think she'll win; however, I have some concerns.
  • I think she'll win. However, I have some concerns.
Read more about using a semicolon before "however."
Read more about starting a sentence with "however."

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See Also

Using apostrophes Using brackets parentheses Using colons Using commas Using dashes Using hyphens Using quotation marks Using semicolons

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