Commas and However (with Examples)

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Commas and However

This page is about whether to use a semicolon or a comma before however.

A Comma before However

It is common grammar mistake to use a comma before however when it is being used to merge two sentences into a compound sentence. For example:
  • I hate potatoes, however, I like chips.
You cannot do this with conjunctive adverbs (e.g., however, furthermore, consequently), but you can do it with coordinate conjunctions (e.g., and, but, or). For example:
  • I hate potatoes, but I like chips.
This is where the confusion creeps in. (Note that however is followed by a comma while but is not. That is another difference between coordinate conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs.)

Start a New Sentence or Use a Semicolon

A conjunctive adverb (e.g., however, furthermore, consequently) serves as a bridge between the first independent clause and the second. It is often called a transitional phrase.

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 very 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 becoming annoying, and using them too often also dimishes 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., just additional information that can be removed with no loss of meaning). For example:
  • Lee does not like lager because it is too fizzy. He does, however, drink lemonade by the bucket load.
  • (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

However can mean nevertheless or to whatever extent. For example:
  • Religious tolerance is something we should all practise. However, there have been more atrocities committed in the name of religion than anything else. (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. (Mary Wortley Montagu)
  • (In this example, However means nevertheless or but.)
  • I never give up in a match. However down I am, I fight until the last ball. (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. (Stephen Hawking)
  • (In this example, However means to whatever extent.)
Here is the ruling on 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.

When However Starts a Clause, Do Not Use a Comma before It

The word however is not a conjunction (like and, or, and but). It is a conjunctive adverb (like furthermore and subsequently). When however starts an independent clause and provides a bridge to a previous idea, it can be preceded by a semicolon. Most often though, 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.
Starting a sentence with however


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