How do I use ‘however’? Do I need a comma?

Great question. ‘However’ is one of those things that people commonly trip over. The short answer is yes, you do need a comma…sometimes.

‘However’ can be used in three ways:

  1. To start a sentence that contradicts the previous one
  2. In the middle of a sentence, contradicting the previous sentence
  3. In the middle of a sentence as a new clause that contradicts the previous clause. This always needs a semicolon.

Examples of each use (note the different punctuation):

  1. Jen always wore red. However, that day she surprised me by wearing blue.
  2. Jen always wore red. That day, however, she surprised me by wearing blue.
  3. Jen always wore red; however, that day she surprised me by wearing blue.

Some purists don’t like starting sentences with ‘however’. However (see what I did there?), it’s becoming more common and is now generally accepted.

Published by lmmerrington

L.M. Merrington is a freelance writer, editor, academic and communications professional. Her journalism and academic writing has appeared in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bulletin, East Asia Forum, Inside Story and South Asia Masala, among others. Her first novel, Greythorne, will be published by Momentum Books, Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint, in 2015. She is currently completing an academic monograph, India and China in the Asia-Pacific, 1890–2030, and working on her next novel.

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