Comma Before or After However | Rules & Examples
The correct way to use commas with the conjunctive adverb “however” depends on where it appears in the sentence. The table below shows the correct way to punctuate it in different positions.
However introducing a clause
People often make punctuation mistakes when using “however” to connect two clauses in a sentence.
It’s incorrect to punctuate “however” in the same way as “but,” just placing a comma before it and nothing after it. Doing so creates a comma splice. It’s still wrong if you add a comma after “however” too.
The correct punctuation in this context is a semicolon before and a comma after.
- I enjoy going to concerts, however I can rarely afford tickets.
- I enjoy going to concerts, however, I can rarely afford tickets.
- I enjoy going to concerts; however, I can rarely afford tickets.
However introducing a sentence
When you use “however” to introduce a new sentence, it still needs to be followed by a comma, just like any other introductory phrase. It’s incorrect to miss out the comma.
- We do have some things in common. However we don’t get along well.
- We do have some things in common. However, we don’t get along well.
However in the middle of a clause
“However” sometimes appears in the middle of a clause instead. In this context, you need commas both before and after it. It’s wrong to omit either of these commas.
- I think I’m quite organized. My partner however, disagrees.
- I think I’m quite organized. My partner, however disagrees.
- I think I’m quite organized. My partner however disagrees.
- I think I’m quite organized. My partner, however, disagrees.
However at the end of a clause
Less commonly, “however” appears at the end of a clause or sentence. In this position, you need a comma before it.
- The doorbell rang. There was nobody there however.
- The doorbell rang. There was nobody there, however.
However vs. but
People often punctuate “however” incorrectly because they use it interchangeably with “but” (or see it as a fancier version of “but”).
Although both are transition words used to create a contrast between different clauses or sentences, they’re punctuated differently. This is because they don’t play the same grammatical role in this context:
- “However” is a conjunctive adverb (like “therefore,” “besides,” or “too“)
- “But” is a coordinating conjunction (like “and” or “or”)
While coordinating conjunctions link clauses together directly and don’t have to be followed by a comma, conjunctive adverbs work differently; they need to be preceded by a period or semicolon and followed by a comma.
The same sentence (or series of sentences) can often be written with either “however” or “but.” The important thing is to remember that the two words require different punctuation and that “but” is also a perfectly valid choice.
- I love to read fiction, however I don’t understand poetry.
- I love to read fiction. However, I don’t understand poetry.
- I love to read fiction, but I don’t understand poetry.
- I love to read fiction. But I don’t understand poetry.
However meaning “no matter how”
When it’s not being used as a conjunctive adverb, “however” can instead be used to mean “no matter how,” “in whatever way,” or “to whatever extent.” In this use, it’s not followed by a comma.
If the “however” clause comes first, it’s separated from the following clause with a comma. If it comes at the end, you can use a comma before “however,” but only if the sentence up to that point would make sense on its own (i.e., the “however” clause is nonrestrictive).
However in questions
A less common use of “however” is as an interrogative adverb, similar to “how.” Just like “how,” “however” is not followed by a comma in this context.
In this context, “however” functions like other emphatic interrogative words (e.g., “whoever,” “whyever”), placing additional emphasis on the question being asked to suggest that you really can’t imagine what the answer might be.
This usage is quite dramatic and not appropriate for academic writing.
Worksheet: Comma before or after however
If you want to test your knowledge of how to punctuate “however” correctly, try completing the worksheet below. Add semicolons and commas wherever you think they are necessary (periods have already been added), and then check the answers provided.
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