However you look at it, "however" is tricky to teach and learn!
In our Militarized Police lesson, we've included a grammar review of the term however because it is used in various ways in the reading. Our head writer asked me to expand on it in this week's blog post, and I thought that was a great idea since many of my former students struggled with this word when writing formal essays (especially in my TOEFL class). Any intermediate to advanced student would benefit from a review of the usage, sentence position, and punctuation of however!
Use #1: Contrast
A. As a Connector
The most common use of however is as an adverb that connects two sentences/clauses in order to show a contrasting idea. In this use, however is also known as a transition word or a conjunctive adverb. It is common in formal speaking and writing. Think of it as a formal way to say but, but don't make the mistake of using it with the same punctuation! (Conjunctions like but and and take an optional comma before and no comma after.)
Sentence Position #1
However comes at the beginning of the second sentence (the one that describes the contrast or opposite viewpoint), following the period from the first sentence. In this position, however is followed by a comma.
- We were told we would be discussing the new schedule during the meeting. However, our boss never brought it up once.
- The temperature on Mercury's surface exceeds 430 degrees Celsius during the day. However, it falls to minus 180 degrees at night.
- Our school only has Apple computers. However, some students are more familiar with PCs.
Sentence Position #2
Similar to Position #1, however can also join two sentences/clauses together. Place a semicolon after the first clause, followed by however and a comma.
- We were told we would be discussing the new schedule during the meeting; however, our boss never brought it up once.
- The temperature on Mercury's surface exceeds 430 degrees Celsius during the day; however, it falls to minus 180 degrees at night.
- Our school only has Apple computers; however, some students are more familiar with PCs.
What's the difference between the examples in Sentence Positions #1 and #2? Nothing! Use both ways for variety within your essay. Using a period is often recommended when both sentences are quite long. Using a semicolon is recommended for shorter sentences or to keep the train of thought "flowing" smoothly (using a semicolon connects and relates two sentences a bit more than a period does).
B. As an Aside
However is also an adverb in this case, and it is used to show contrast or opposing ideas. The difference is in the placement of the word, which also affects its strength. In these next two positions, however is not directly following one idea and preceding the next, so as you can guess, it's not as strong of a contrast. However in these positions is also known as a nonessential adverb or a parenthetical adverb. It is not essential or as important to the meaning of the sentence. The idea is that you could remove however without it affecting the meaning of the rest of the sentence that much.
Sentence Position #3
Insert however after the subject of the second sentence. It can also fall between a two‑part verb (between the auxiliary or modal and main verb). In these positions, commas must come before and after however.
- I can't make it to the party. My husband, however, will be attending.
- The union came up with a plan. The government, however, wants to renegotiate.
- Camping in the summer is fun. You must, however, remember to use sunscreen.
Sentence Position #4
Place however at the end of the second sentence. A comma must precede however in this position.
- I can't make it to the party. My husband will be attending, however.
- The union came up with a plan. The government wants to renegotiate, however.
- Camping in the summer is fun. You must remember to use sunscreen, however.
What's the difference between the four sentence positions so far? Can we use all four with no difference in meaning? The answer to that is yes, although using Positions #3 and #4 suggests that the connection between the two sentences is slightly less important.
- I have two dogs. However, my roommate prefers cats.
- I have two dogs; however, my roommate prefers cats.
- I have two dogs. My roommate, however, prefers cats.
- I have two dogs. My roommate prefers cats, however.
Use #2: In Whatever Manner
However is also a conjunction or adverb (depending on the sentence position) that means in whatever manner or means or no matter how.
Sentence Position #5
Conjunction: Place however between two clauses with no punctuation on either side.
- I will assist however I can.
- Decorate it however you like.
Sentence Positions #6 & #7
Adverb: Place however at the beginning of the dependent clause. In English, dependent clauses can follow independent clauses (use no punctuation before or after however) or begin the sentence (use no punctuation after however). If the dependent clause begins the sentence, don't forget to include a comma at the end of the dependent clause.
- The situation is unfair however you look at it.
- However you look at it, the situation is unfair.
Even though this seems like a lot to take in, remember that most formal transition words in English (such as moreover, on the other hand, furthermore, in contrast, etc.) all follow the same first four sentence patterns. Find a comprehensive list of transition words on page 5 of our How to Write Body Paragraphs lesson.