Starting a Sentence With "However": Right or Wrong?
You can start a sentence with "however," but you need to be careful. And what about "and" and "but"?
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How to Use "However" in the Middle of a Sentence
You can also bury a however that means “nevertheless” in the middle of your sentence. You might do this to avoid using it at the beginning when you are insecure about your audience, or you might do it because it makes sense with the rhythm of your sentence. Garner and Chicago both say using however is a good way to add emphasis to the part that comes next.
For example, Dickens buried the however in this sentence from Nicholas Nickelby: “Love, however, is very materially assisted by a warm and active imagination.”
When you put however in the middle of a sentence like this, it should be surrounded by commas.
Here's another example: in Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “The chief weapon of sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was too late, how heartless and greedy they were.”
Again, put a comma before and after however when you use it in the middle of a sentence this way. This is one area where people get confused because sometimes you need a semicolon before however in the middle of a long sentence and sometimes you need a comma before however in the middle of a long sentence. Just remember that you only use the semicolon when you are joining two main clauses and the however just happens to be in the way shouting “nevertheless.” As I said in the episode on semicolons, think of a semicolon as a sentence splicer—it splices together two main clauses.
So remember, don't let anyone tell you that it's wrong to start a sentence with however. On the other hand, it might be a good idea to avoid the practice if you're applying for a job since a lot of people mistakenly believe that it is wrong, and it's often more effective to use the simpler word "but." Mind your commas and semicolons, and don't use any punctuation after however when you use it to mean “in whatever manner,” “to whatever extent,” or "no matter how."
- "however." Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. dictionary.reference.com/browse/however (accessed: May 26, 2007).
- Aaron, J. The Little, Brown Essential Handbook. New York: Pearson Education, 2006, p. 71, p. 231.
- Scharton, M. and Neuleib, J. Things Your Grammar Never Told You. Second edition. New York: Pearson Education, 2001, p. 77.
- Spina, G. The Mountain Man's Field Guide to Grammar. Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2006, p.221.
- Hacker, D. “However at the beginning of a sentence.” The Language Debates. www.dianahacker.com/rules/subpages_language/however.html (accessed May 26, 2007).
- Garner, B. “however” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd edition. Oxford University Press. 2009.
- “Beginning a sentence with ‘however’” The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. 5.207. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/ch05/ch05_sec207.html (accessed January 31, 2013)
- Henning, K. “Writing for Readers Who Scan.” The Click Z Network. February 6, 2001. www.clickz.com/showPage.html?page=836621 (accessed May 26,2007).
- Stilman, A. Grammatically Correct. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2004, p. 262.
- Lutz, G. and Stevenson, D. Grammar Desk Reference. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2005, p.42.
- Nordquist, R. "'But'--It's a Wonderful Word." About.com Grammar and Composition. August 4, 2008. http://is.gd/1nTG (accessed August 10, 2008).
- “Semicolons with Conjunctive Adverbs” Pearson Education Online Handbook. http://wps.ablongman.com/long_longman_ohb_1/27/7023/1798009.cw/content/index.html (accessed January 31, 2013)
Web Bonus: Extra Examples
However (“to whatever extent” or “in whatever manner”) starting a sentence
Let them be. Let them lie unspoken of, in his breast. However distinctly or indistinctly he entertained these thoughts, he arrived at the conclusion, Let them be. Among the mighty store of wonderful chains that are for ever forging, day and night, in the vast iron-works of time and circumstance, there was one chain forged in the moment of that small conclusion, riveted to the foundations of heaven and earth, and gifted with invincible force to hold and drag. Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
However (“nevertheless”) starting a sentence
However, never daunted, I will cope with adversity in my traditional manner ... sulking and nausea.
Tom K. Ryan (Creator of the Tumbleweeds comic strip)
However (“to whatever extent” or “in whatever manner”) in the middle of a sentence
I have learned never to ridicule any man's opinion, however strange it may seem. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Captain of the Polestar.
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, (Sherlock Holmes) The Sign of Four.
A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise. Pooh's Little Instruction Book, inspired by A. A. Milne.
Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast. Logan Pearsall Smith.
The moment a man sets his thoughts down on paper, however secretly, he is in a sense writing for publication. Raymond Chandler.
However (“nevertheless”) in the middle of a sentence with commas
There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass! Terry Pratchett, The Truth.
This is an update of an article that originally appeared May 29, 2007.