How to Punctuate with “However”

By Mark Nichol

However are you going to keep this information straight? The usage of punctuation with however may seem confusing; however, the distinctions are straightforward.

However has several distinct uses. In all but one, it is an adverb — a word that modifies a verb. One adverbial use is much more common and syntactically variable than the other: It can appear at any of several points in a sentence to signal that a counterpoint will follow. For example, after the sentence “My point was valid,” the following sentence might appear: “However, its significance was lost in the ensuing argument.”

However can also be introduced after the subject of the sentence: “Its significance, however, was lost in the ensuing argument.” Alternatively, it can be appended to the end of the sentence as a tag: “Its significance was lost in the ensuing argument, however.”

The two statements from the first paragraph could also be combined into one sentence: “My point was valid; however, its significance was lost in the ensuing argument.” (Here, too, however can be placed after the subject in the second independent clause or at the end of it.) Note that the semicolon takes the place of the period because these two statements are so closely related that they need not be segregated into separate sentences, but because however is an interjection, the comma following the word must be retained.

Although one could write, following a sentence such as “He scoffed at my comment,” the statement “My point was valid, however,” a simple comma following however is incorrect if an independent clause follows. That is why “My point was valid, however, its significance was lost in the ensuing argument” is erroneous: However seems to refer to the first independent clause, but it is introducing the second one.

None of the other uses of however, which are relatively rare, requires a comma: The other adverbial uses are as a synonym for “to whatever degree (or extent),” as in “I have been aware of that for however many years,” and as an intensifier equivalent to the expression “how in the world,” as in “However did you know I was going to say that?”

The other use of however is as a conjunction. It can be a synonym for “no matter how,” as in “My point, however you look at it, is valid” or for “in whatever manner or way that,” as in “They will assist us however they can.”

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


4 Responses to “How to Punctuate with “However””

  • Matt Gaffney

    The writer overlooks the fact that adverbs also modify adjectives and that should be an element in his discussion of the correct use of “however”. His comments, insofar as they went, were spot on; however, he should have given at least one example of “however” modifying an adjective, e.g., “However valid his comments, they were not altogether complete.”

    I’m not a fan of his using “usage” for “use.” In my experience, neither “usage” nor “utilize” should be used in place of “use.” They connote the sense of something being used for a purpose for which it was not intended, e.g., one utilizes a brick as a doorstop or the usage of a brick as a doorstop was a last-minute inspiration.

    Beyond that, the article was certainly spot on—what we’ve all come to expect and, spoiled as we are, demand.

  • Nelida K.

    Nice post, Mark, and a quite useful refresher.

    @Matt: I believe that Mark has addressed your example in the last paragraph of his post? And as to “usage, use, utilize”, Bryan A. Garner in his “Modern American Usage”, Oxford University Press 2003, p. 809 states: “USAGE generally refers to an idiom or form of speech, an occurrence of one, or forms of speech in general (…)” and then, after a couple of examples, goes on to say “Here the use (not ‘usage’) of the word is poor (…)”. Then, in page 810, says à propos “USE; UTILIZE; UTILIZATION: ‘Use’ is the all-purpose noun and verb, ordinarily to be preferred over ‘utilize’ and ‘utilization’. ‘Utilize’ is both more abstract and more favorable connotatively than ‘use’.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    There is nowadays a gross overuse of “age” at the ends of words. Perhaps the writers think that this gives them an air of erudition?

    Besides “usage”, “misusage”, “overusage”, and “underusage”, we now see “linage” instead of “lines” (as on highways), “signage” instead of “signs” (as on highways and in airports and railroad stations), and “verbage” instead of “words” or “sentences”.

    Example: The XYZ Corp. wins $10 million contract on signage on new expressway.

    Furthermore, there are the “chrome domes” who desire utilization in place of either “use” or “usage”. We also have nuts who use “boobage” instead of “bosom”. I say to feed them all a lot of cabbage.

    Don’t even get me started on these atrocious ones: {amperage, acreage, footage, ohmage, poundage, wattage, yardage}.
    The only excuse for allowing “tonnage” is that word has been used in the realm of ships and barges for so very long.

    All of this has brought up the European confusion between a “road” and a “highway”. Americans and Canadians have known the difference between the two for a long time and have used them thus, so why don’t the rest join us?

    There is a clear hierarchy between a superhighway, a highway, a mere road, a street, an alley, and a mere path. Why not? There are problems with British English, and more concerning other European languages such as German, in which a “Strasse” could extend all the way from Berlin to Dusseldorf or Heidelberg.

    Here, a street, an avenue, or a boulevard usually exists only in the built-up part of an urban area, e.g. Sunset Boulevard in the Los Angeles Basin, or Pennsylvania Avenue in and near Washington, D.C. I just picked two that people overseas might be familiar with. We don’t expect Sunset Boulevard to extend all the way to Las Vegas, and it doesn’t, and we don’t expect Pennsylvania Avenue to extend all the way to Philadephia, and it doesn’t.

  • Patman

    @Dale

    This article is about the useage of the word “however”; however, you seem more focused on your personal vendetta with the word “road”. There mustn’t have been enough signage in the top of the page to clarify this for you, however.

Leave a comment: