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Author : Catie Holdridge
Posted : 28 / 10 / 10
‘However’ is a useful word, however you look at it. [Sorry – Ed.] But readers of our e-bulletin, Write Away, often ask us to clarify the right ways to use it.
However we can help, say we.
The most common way of using ‘however’ is to mean ‘but’. This usually comes at the beginning of a sentence, and is followed by a comma.
The calendar claimed the month was May. However, the temperature felt more like November.
For this use, it’s also correct to put it in the middle of the sentence, with commas either side.
It was May. It was, however, very nippy.
Or you can put it at the end, after a comma.
I am normally wearing shorts by this time of year. I’m afraid of pneumonia, however.
But it is wrong to use ‘however’ between two parts of a sentence that make sense by themselves.
I look forward to this time of year, however today I have goosebumps is grammatically incorrect. You can use ‘but’ here instead, because it is a conjunction (or joining word). ‘However’ is not a conjunction when it means ‘but’.
I look forward to this time of year. However, today I have goosebumps is grammatically correct.
You can also use a semi-colon instead of the full stop – note you’ll still need that comma after ‘however’:
I look forward to this time of year; however, today I have goosebumps.
Meaning ‘no matter how’
Another, less common, meaning for ‘however’ is ‘no matter how’. You can use it in the middle of a sentence without a comma after it.
I couldn’t bring myself to give up my thermal vest, however tired I was of being teased for it.
You can also put it at the beginning of your sentence, without a comma afterwards.
However you like me to dress, I’ll do the opposite.
Be wary of not accidentally putting a comma after ‘however’ in this instance, or you could end up saying something quite different.
However, you like me to dress, I’ll do the opposite. [Note: if you do ever want to assert that, while there are people who prefer you clothed, you will always choose to defy them, then that second comma should really be a semi-colon. Or a full stop.]
Meaning ‘in whatever way’
In this form ‘however’ can be at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence, with no punctuation around it.
I’m kidding. I’ll dress however you’d like me to. It’s your mum’s birthday party.
How do I want to travel to Hawaii? However you want. You’re paying.
When you’re writing a long document, and you need to link from one paragraph to another, it’s easy to fall into the trap of over-using ‘however’ (meaning ‘but’). Here are some good alternatives to keep your writing varied and fresh:
• On the other hand
• In contrast/comparison.
If you’re ever in doubt about how to use a particular word, or if you have any other business writing questions, our free 64-page guide to better writing The Write Stuff will help. Click here to download your free copy.
Catie joined Emphasis with an English literature and creative writing degree and a keen interest in what makes language work. Having researched and written dozens of articles for the Emphasis blog, she now knows more about the intricacies of effective professional writing than she ever thought possible.
She produced and co-wrote our online training programme, Emphasis 360, and these days oversees all the Emphasis marketing efforts. And she keeps office repartee at a suitably literary level.
Posted by: Catie Holdridge
14 / 09 / 11
Grammar is about the rules that structure language. Knowing and using grammar effectively is a sure-fire way to make sure you are understood, which is always useful. But there are various erroneous ‘rules’ of grammar masquerading as law out there. Beware these blighters: they could have you needlessly rewording perfectly good sentences. In the first […]
15 / 10 / 11
It’s a rule beloved by schoolteachers: you can’t start a sentence with and or but. It’s also one of the few rules of grammar many people remember actually being mentioned at school. But could we in fact have ditched it, along with that uniform shirt on which everyone scrawled their goodbyes on the last day […]
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