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

‘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 Louise Merrington

Louise Merrington is a writer and editor specialising in plain English editing for government, businesses, professional associations and non-profits. She is also the author of several novels, under the name L.M. Merrington.

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