Can you start a sentence with “however”?

One of the most common questions asked by writers, no matter their proficiency level, is whether or not however can be used at the start of the sentence. The short answer is yes, indeed it can, but the long answer requires a little more explaining.

That’s because the way you use however will determine whether or not you use a comma or semicolon directly after it and whether it should be at the start of the sentence.

Using these different punctuation points will change the meaning of the sentence completely.

Getting to grips with however

When however starts the sentence without a comma after it, we call it a modifier; when it doesn’t, it’s called a connector.

It’s important to know the difference between the two as however is considered as a conjunctive adverb, where it can either join clauses together (that’s where the comma comes in) or it modifies a clause (where the semicolon – or indeed no punctuation – can be used). Now, do you see why it’s a big deal to get it right?

If you choose to put however at the start without a comma, then it means in whatever manner, to any extent or even no matter how … and the following sentence will then reflect that. In this situation, you could actually use no matter how, instead of however, and get the exact same meaning across.

Can You Start a Sentence with

With a comma

Some classic grammarians will argue that you should not begin a sentence with however if you can use but or nevertheless, but as applied in the University of Oxford Style Guide, however can be used to start a sentence.

Putting a comma after however at the beginning of a sentence automatically makes it a connector. By doing so, we indicate clearly that what we actually mean is nevertheless.

Having however at the start rather than connecting in the centre can make things much clearer.

How & When to Use However in a Sentence – Video & Lesson Transcript

'However' is one of those words that many writers avoid because they aren't sure how to use it properly. This is a shame, though, because it is a very useful word that can do many different jobs in a sentence.

However, using it does require the writer to pay close attention and use proper punctuation in order to not be ambiguous or confusing. So let's take a look at this word so you can put this multifaceted tool in your writing toolbox.

Let's start with its part of speech, or job in a sentence. 'However' is an adverb, which is a word that modifies a verb, adjective, or group of words. 'However' most often modifies a group of words to show a contrast with something that had been said before. It can also be used to mean 'in whatever manner'.

So how do you use it in each of these ways? Let's find out.

Starting a Sentence

Perhaps the most common use of 'however' is at the beginning of a sentence. It indicates that this sentence is going to say something contradictory to the previous sentence. When using 'however' at the beginning of a sentence, it is always followed by a comma (,):

  • I got to the airport two hours early. However, my flight was delayed.
  • Rebecca invited me to her party tonight. However, I already made other plans.
  • Jane asked for extra credit to raise her grade. However, Mr. Robinson refused.
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I got to the airport two hours early. However, my flight was delayed.

Can You Start a Sentence with

With a Semicolon

In our examples above, 'however' is used to transition between two sentences, indicating a contrast or contradiction in the second sentence. These two sentences could also be joined together into what is known as a compound sentence, which is a sentence made of two independent clauses, or a part of a sentence that can stand on its own as a sentence.

To create a compound sentence, all you have to do is swap out the period at the end of the first sentence for a semicolon (;). 'However' stays where it was, including its comma:

  • I got to the airport two hours early; however, my flight was delayed.
  • Rebecca invited me to her party tonight; however, I already made other plans.
  • Jane asked for extra credit to raise her grade; however, Mr. Robinson refused.

The Grammar Rule on Beginning a Sentence With "However"

It is a perplexing word that denotes a contradiction between statements and can seem like a difficult word to use. The word “however” is a rather useful tool in essays, speeches and debates.

Regardless, the conjunctive word can trip up writers who may confuse the proper punctuation or intent of this often misused word.

Know how to correctly use the word “however” before embarking on an essay or report and bring home the best grade.

It is a handy word for creating a pause when a writer or speaker is intending to create a moment to punctuate a point between two contrasting statements. The word however is mainly used to introduce a statement that contrasts with the one that it follows. If a previous statement says that “roses are red,” the follow-up statement would begin with “However, that depends on the species.”

When placed at the beginning of a sentence, the word “however” is intended to mean “but” or “on the other hand.” When you put however at the end of a sentence, the word can mean an aside by the writer.

Both uses require a comma, after a word at the beginning of a sentence and before the word when it is used at the end. If the word is meant to infer that something is done “by whatever amount,” then no comma is used.

For instance, “However long it takes, it still will not be satisfactory.”

However in a Compound Sentence

Once the writer realizes how “however” can best be used, they need to understand the punctuation that assists this statement-linking word. Proper punctuation allows for the reader to clearly understand the point being made.

If “however” joins two simple sentences that together create a compound sentence, it is there to show contrast.

This requires a semi-colon before the word “however” and a comma after the word and before the rest of the following statement.

However at the Beginning of a Sentence

Starting a sentence with however is an entirely different thing. When the word is being used to begin a sentence, a simple comma will do.

Teachers prefer the word “however” to not be overused, as it can take away from the impact of the essay.

It is best to use the word “however” as it was intended, in a compound sentence meant to contrast two points or statements instead of using however at the beginning of a sentence.

While it is also acceptable to begin a paragraph with the word “however,” it may be frowned upon by teachers and scholars. Some feel it stops the flow of the writer’s intent. While grammatically correct, it is not ideal if a student is searching for a good grade.

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However sentence examples

  • However, there were many challenges.
  • However, I don't think finding these solutions means an end to all our troubles.
  • However, we knew a careless word overheard could spell our doom.
  • However, I have not set my heart on that.
  • On the river, however, the adventurers seemed to be perfectly safe.
  • However, none of us uncrossed our fingers.
  • I absolutely must see him, however painful it may be for me.
  • Little by little, however, my difficulties began to disappear.
  • However, we feared no threat from either, nor did we feel they wished to identify us.
  • A bright idea, however, shot into my mind, and the problem was solved.
  • He longed to get into that water, however dirty it might be, and he glanced round at the pool from whence came sounds of shrieks and laughter.
  • However, Martha took notes and Betsy recorded what was said.
  • He was, however, quick to pick up on Martha's description of the cigarette package.
  • Some people disagree with his theory, however, as it’s never been proven.
  • However, my wife was far and away the most intelligent of the five of us and understood our success depended on strong leadership.
  • The engineers said the bridge was now safe, however, no one wanted to risk crossing it.
  • I don't however intend to give up Latin and Greek entirely.
  • However, she quickly learned that wasn't Howie's main concern.
  • However, I was but one of five.
  • Prince Andrew, however, did not answer that voice and went on dreaming of his triumphs.
  • His gaze, however, was riveted to the vial.
  • As much as it didn't make sense, as much as his day job terrified her … She wanted Darkyn, more so now that she knew he had a side – however tiny – that was capable of caring for her and only her.
  • However, locked up in ocean water—just suspended in ocean water—may be the equivalent of eight more such cubes.
  • No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.
  • However, even if this problem were solved perfectly, it doesn't really end ignorance.
  • Oddly, it could, however, join the military and go fight in a war overseas.
  • Influence in society, however, is a capital which has to be economized if it is to last.
  • However she felt about Ben’s arrogance, she couldn’t deny he was a talented artist.
  • Damian, however, was impressed he was able to do it at all.
  • However, with Howie's credibility questioned, I felt we were compelled to revisit the issue.
  • He remained, however, uncertain how to do so without immersing himself further in Lydia Larkin's sordid activities.
  • Early one morning, however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come.
  • However, in this case my pains were their own reward.
  • At last, however, the sea, as if weary of its new toy, threw me back on the shore, and in another instant I was clasped in my teacher's arms.
  • However much value the labor can add to the thing is the amount of wage the person can earn.
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How to Use However

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This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD. Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014.

There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

  1. 1

    Begin a contrasting statement with “However,”. To introduce a sentence that contradicts or contrasts with the previous sentence, start it with “However,…” This will alert your reader that a shift is forthcoming. Always put a comma after the “However,” and follow it with a complete sentence.[1]

    • You might write, “I was very excited to be invited to lunch. However, I had already made plans.”
    • Another example could be, “The pattern was certainly original. However, the new wallpaper did not match the furniture at all.”
  2. 2

    Join two contrasting sentences using “; however,”. When you have two full sentences that are in opposition or contrast to one another, but are closely connected, join them with a semicolon, the word “however,” and a comma. This shows that the second sentence is in opposition in some way to the first.[2]

    • Start with two sentences that contain opposition: “I would love to join you for lunch. I am too busy.”
    • Join them in this way: “I would love to join you for lunch; however, I am too busy.”
    • This will make the connections between the sentences obvious, and help your writing sound more cohesive.
  3. 3

    Use “, however,” as an aside.

"However" as a Sentence-Starter

However, this is bad form.

Look at the sentences above, the ones starting with But. Imagine how awful they would sound if the writer had started them with However followed by a comma. No applause for Justice Black if he had written:

The Framers knew, better perhaps than we do today, the risks they were taking. They knew that free speech might be the friend of change and revolution. However, they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny. Hugo Black, The Bill of Rights, 35 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 865, 880-81 (1960).

Strunk & White urges writers to shun however at the beginning of a sentence.

Avoid starting a sentence with however when the meaning is “nevertheless.” The word usually serves better when not in first position.

Example: The roads were almost impassable. However, we at last succeeded in reaching camp.

Correction: The roads were almost impassable. At last, however, we succeeded in reaching camp.

When however comes first, it means “in whatever way” or “to whatever extent.”

Examples: However you advise him, he will probably do as he thinks best. However discouraging the prospect, he never lost heart. Strunk & White, pp. 48-49.

  • Strunk & White could have expanded this advice by urging the use of But as a way to start a sentence and to show contrast at its beginning. 
  • Previous: Start a Sentence with a Conjunction Next: A Word About Nor

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