Generic Skills Program
Grammatical Tip of the Week #1 - However
What does however mean?
However is one of the commonly misused, and misplaced, words in student writing.
However in its most common usage has a similar meaning to yet or nevertheless and therefore implies a contrast, limitation or distinction.
e.g. 1. The dog and thylacine share similar morphology and behaviour. However, the thylacine cannot wag its tail.
Is it correct to use however in my sentence?
See if replacing however with the words by contrast or nevertheless keeps the same meaning. If it does then you have probably used however correctly.
See if removing the however changes the meaning you wanted to convey. If it does not then you probably don't need it!
Have I placed however in the correct position in the sentence?
However should be placed in a sentence directly after the word(s), phrase or clause to which it gives emphasis.
e.g. 2. Debutantes traditionally wear a demure white dress to their debutante ball. Margaret, however, decided to flout tradition and wore a clinging red evening dress.
(The emphasis is on Margaret, as the flouter of tradition.)
e.g. 3. Janette refused to speak to John after their separation. She would, however, communicate with him through his lawyer.
(The emphasis is on what Janette would be willing to do.)
A common error is to place however either too early or too late in the sentence.
e.g. 4. She, however, would communicate with him through his lawyer. INCORRECT
In this sentence the emphasis is thrown onto She, which implies that no-one else would communicate with him through his lawyer.
In the correct sentence (e.g. 3.), the emphasis is placed on would, which correctly suggests she would (as opposed to would not) communicate with John to some degree.
e.g. 5. She would communicate with him, however, through his lawyer. INCORRECT
This incorrectly places the emphasis on him (i.e. John), which implies a contrast between how she communicates with John and with others. This is not the desired meaning.
Note that however is preceded and followed by a slight pause and therefore is surrounded by stops - either a fullstop and comma (e.g. 1.), a semicolon and comma (e.g. 8. below), or two commas (e..g. 4).
Do not use however as a conjunction where but would be sufficient
e.g. 6. I thought I had prepared for the practical class diligently, however, my demonstrator told me I had no idea and threw me out of the laboratory. INCORRECT
Replace the however with but and leave out the commas to make the sentence correct.
You could correctly retain the however if you insert a stop - either a full stop or a semicolon:
e.g. 7. I thought I had prepared for the practical class diligently. However, my demonstrator told me I had no idea and threw me out of the laboratory.
e.g. 8. I thought I had prepared for the practical class diligently; however, my demonstrator told me I had no idea and threw me out of the laboratory.
Do not use however and but in the same sentence
One or the other will be redundant.
e.g. 9. I went home at 5 but Jim, however, stayed back late to finish his computing assignment. INCORRECT.
This could correctly be written:
e.g. 10. I went home at 5. Jim, however, stayed back late to finish his computing assignment.
e.g. 11. I went home at 5 but Jim stayed back late to finish his computing assignment.
Difference between however and how ever
As two separate words, the expression how ever is used to emphasise a question.
e.g. 12. How ever did you get home without getting wet?
The ever is used to intensify the question (How?).
Reference and further help
Burchfield, R.W. (ed.) (1996) The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. 3rd Edition. (Oxford University Press: Oxford) (page 367).