The English language is full of rules and conventions that can seem arbitrary at best and downright confusing at worst. One of the most common questions I’m asked as a grammar expert is whether it’s ever okay to start a sentence with the word “however.” The answer, as with so many things in language, is “it depends.” In this blog post, I’ll explore when you can start a sentence with “however,” and when you should probably avoid it.
However: what it is and how to use it.
What is however
However is a conjunctive adverb that can be used to join two independent clauses or to introduce a subordinate clause. It expresses contrast or exception, and typically appears at the beginning of a sentence.
I’m studying hard for my exams. However, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pass.
In this sentence, the author is using however to express contrast between two ideas.
How to use however
When using however, it is important to keep a few things in mind:
- It can be used to join two independent clauses by placing it before the second clause. In this case, you will need to use a semicolon before however;
- It can also be used introducing a subordinate clause;
- If you are using it at the beginning of a sentence, make sure there is no comma after it;
- You can also use it in the middle or end of a sentence, but in these cases you will need to use a comma before and after however.
Here are some examples:
Semicolon usage: I’m studying hard for my exams; however, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pass.
Subordinate clause usage: However much I study, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pass my exams.
Beginning of sentence usage: However difficult it may seem, you should try your best.
Middle/End of sentence usage: The situation seems dire; however, there is still hope. OR There is still hope; however, the situation seems dire.
However: when to use it.
When to use however
Use “however” to introduce a contrasting idea or sentence. For example,
I’m not very good at math; however, I’m excellent at English.
When not to use however
Do not use “however” at the beginning of a sentence when the subject matter is not in contrast with what came before. Additionally, be careful when using “however” with words such as “nevertheless” or “nonetheless,” as this can come across as overly negative or critical. For example,
However you choose to do it, just get it done. (Incorrect)
Choose to do it whichever way you want; however, just get it done. (Correct)
I’m not going to the party; nevertheless, I’ll see you later. (Incorrect)
I’m not going to the party; however, I’ll see you later. (Correct)
Examples of how to use however
“I’m not sure if I want to go out tonight, however I’ll think about it.”
In this example, the speaker is undecided about something, but they are considering it. They use the word “however” to introduce new information that contrasts with what came before.
“I’m not very hungry, however I’ll have a sandwich.”
In this example, the speaker is saying that even though they’re not very hungry, they will still have a sandwich. The word “however” is used to contrast the two ideas of hunger and eating.
Examples of how not to use however
“However, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
In this example, the speaker is introducing new information that contradicts what came before. The word “however” doesn’t make sense in this context and can be replaced with “but”.
“I don’t want to go out tonight, however.”
In this example, the speaker is saying that they don’t want to go out tonight and there is no contrasting information. The word “however” doesn’t make sense here and can be removed from the sentence entirely.
In conclusion, however can be a great word to start a sentence with. It can add emphasis or contrast to what you’re saying. However, it’s important to use it sparingly and make sure that you’re using it correctly. Otherwise, your writing will sound choppy or like you’re trying too hard. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and reword your sentence.