Syntax: Properly Placing “However”

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Should you ever begin a sentence with however? Or should you only use however in a mid-sentence construction?

General Use of However:

  • However is a conjunctive adverb that typically signals an upcoming contrast or contradiction: “Defendant disagreed with the prosecutor’s framing of his actions. The evidence, however, speaks for itself.”

Use as a Sentence Starter: 

  • If you want to slow down the pace and emphasize a point, “however” can be used to grab the reader’s attention. Otherwise, “but” or “yet” convey the same meaning and provide a lighter touch. But be careful opening a sentence with however: the contrast being drawn may be unclear if however is placed too far from the specific elements being contrasted.

Mid-Sentence Use:

  • Rule of Thumb: Place however as close to the elements being contrasted as possible. The example below shows why: moving however within a sentence can change the contrast being emphasized.
  • Example: The plaintiff didn’t, however, have enough money to pay his fee.
    • Meaning: Here, the emphasis is on the unexpectedness of plaintiff’s lack of funds.
  • Example 2: He didn’t have enough money, however, to pay his fee.
    • Meaning: This sentence emphasizes the consequence of plaintiff’s lack of funds—an inability to pay.

Rule: However should be placed directly before—or as close as possible to—the subject of the contrast it is highlighting.

  • Punctuation Rule of Thumb: If what comes before however couldn’t stand as a sentence on its own, then you need a comma both before and after the word, NOT a semicolon before.

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1. For the following sentence, determine the correct placement of however: Christianity’s supplanting of traditional paganism in the late Roman Empire accompanied many other social developments. Historians since Gibbon, however, have been cautious about inferring causation from this correlation.

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2. For the following sentence, determine the correct placement of however: The study of quantum mechanics opens many doors to understanding the universe. String theory remains a contentious subject among physicists, however.

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3. For the following sentence, decide the best position for however: Renewable energy is gaining traction worldwide. Solar panels can be expensive to install.

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4. For the given sentence, choose the right placement for however: Dolphins are known for their intelligence. Whales, however, have larger brains.

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5. For the next sentence, choose the right placement for however: Mathematics is the backbone of many scientific disciplines. Philosophy depends more on abstract thinking.

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6. For the given sentence, choose the right construction for however: During the past year, several groups of criminals have severed fiber optic cables that support everything from mobile-phone calls to credit card payments. Creating a robust network is not a foolproof way to protect these cables, however, no matter how many redundancies there are, those who are intent on causing mischief will always find the means.

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7. Which construction of the following sentence is correct: Haig was optimistic about the next phase of battle. Before the main offensive could begin however, he needed to resolve a pressing issue involving the Messines Ridge.

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