‘However’ is similar in meaning to ‘but’, with a longer pause built in. What’s tricky is that ‘however’ isn’t interchangeable with ‘but’, and it’s punctuated differently. In fact, punctuating the word ‘however’ is about the most common problem we see as editors.

Here are some guidelines:

But

But is a ‘conjunction’ in grammar, and it joins two parts of a sentence:

  1. I went to the supermarket to buy oranges, but there were none left.
  2. Maddie ran a highly professional campaign but lost the election.

However

The way we most often use ‘however’ is as an adverb. Substituting ‘however’ where ‘but’ was used in (1) and (2) would therefore be incorrect. As I said, the two words are not grammatically interchangeable.

Think of ‘however’ as giving you a longer pause than ‘but’ does, and let’s see how correct punctuation helps with that:

  1. I went to the supermarket to buy oranges. However, there were none left.

Rule: Split sentence into two, starting the second one with However, (Tip: remember the comma after it). 

  1. Maddie ran a highly professional campaign; however, she lost the election.

Rule: Split into two using a semicolon; again, ‘however’ must be followed by a comma and note in this example we had to insert ‘she’ as this part of the sentence must be an ‘independent clause’, meaning it also needs a subject – ‘she’.

Your turn

Correct these examples (there are 4 possible answers at the foot):

  1. The Bill was passed by the lower house, however it was blocked by the Senate. (Incorrect)
  2. Jim had lots of experience however wasn’t right for the job. (Incorrect)

There are other ways of using ‘however’, such as ‘However hard he tried, …’ but that’s enough for today.

If you’d like to discuss this with us, or have an example you would like our comment on, feel free to email mel@hitsend.com.au Alternatively, visit our express proofreading page to have us check your grammar on any business document up to 3,000 words. You may hate proofreading, but we love it.

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Corrected versions of 5 and 6

  1. The Bill was passed by the lower house, however it was blocked by the Senate. (Incorrect)

5a.  The Bill was passed by the lower house. However, it was blocked by the Senate.

5b.  The Bill was passed by the lower house; however, it was blocked by the Senate.

5c.  The Bill was passed by the lower house, but it was blocked by the Senate.

5d.  The Bill was passed by the lower house but was blocked by the Senate.

  1. Jim had lots of experience however wasn’t right for the job. (Incorrect)

6a.  Jim had lots of experience. However, he wasn’t right for the job.

6b.  Jim had lots of experience; however, he wasn’t right for the job.

6c.  Jim had lots of experience, but he wasn’t right for the job.

6d.  Jim had lots of experience but wasn’t right for the job.