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What is the rule of thumb for using 'however' in the middle of the sentence? For example:

Some people disagree with this theory, however, as it's never been proven right.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Nothing wrong with a however in the middle of a sentence. You often see a semi-colon in front of the comma, however, instead of a comma, particularly if the second half of the sentence could stand on its own as a complete sentence:

  • Some people disagree with this theory; however, it's never been proven right.

That said, the sentence above sounds awkward. The however should introduce some idea that's contrary to the preceding thought:

  • Some people disagree with this theory; however, it's never been proven wrong.

This makes more sense. It's another way of saying, "Even though some people disagree with this theory, it's never been proven wrong." (You wouldn't disagree with a theory, unless you thought it was wrong - right?)

I hope this answers your question; however, if it doesn't, you may want to elaborate more on what you're asking.

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3  
+1: Spot on. "However" should indeed only be used to introduce something that contradicts or otherwise limits/modifies its antecedent. And the semicolon is definitely a standard way of terminating that antecedent. –  FumbleFingers Feb 29 '12 at 15:28
    
I understood "however" in the OP's example as expressing a contrast not with the preceding part of the example but with some earlier sentence propounding the theory in question. –  Andreas Blass Feb 20 at 17:55
    
@Andreas - Nice thought! That's a valid way to look at it (one that might have been more obvious had more context been provided). If you expounded on that possibility in an answer, I'd probably upvote it. –  J.R. Feb 20 at 19:24
    
However M-W,is a conjunction for: in whatever manner or way <will help however I can>; but also has an archaic use: although. How archaic is it, since most people answering here use this archaic meaning? –  Flonorec Apr 13 at 17:31
    
@Flonorec - Interesting – it doesn't seem archaic. Collins doesn't label it as archaic; moreover, of the five dictionaries cited at Wordnik, only one uses the archaic label. Curious indeed. –  J.R. Apr 13 at 18:10

I don't know about a "rule of thumb", but you must be careful about ambiguous meaning.

However, xxxx.

and

Xxxxx, however.

Are pretty much equivalent. And that means that:

Some people disagree with this theory however it's never been proven right.

Could be read as:

However, some people disagree this theory. It's never been proven right.

... or as ...

Some people disagree with this theory. However, it's never been proven right.

The reader has to think pretty hard about the semantic meaning of the sentence, to decide which one you intended (I'd guess the first one, since "Some people disagree with this theory" is consistent with "It's never been proven right"). You might see this as a good thing -- forcing the reader to read closely. But most people aim for easy readability.

You can fix the ambiguity with punctuation:

Some people disagree with this theory, however: it's never been proven right.

Some people disagree with this theory; however, it's never been proven right.

But, short sentences rock. The clearest thing to do is to break it into short, unambiguous sentences.

Some people disagree with this theory, however. It's never been proven right.

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However can't be used to hold together two stand-alone statements in a compound sentence, like but can. So, the sentence "Some people disagree with this theory however it's never been proven right" is wrong; it requires but instead.

However is used to "point up" a single stand-alone statement, highlighting an up-coming contradiction or limitation, as Fumblefingers says. But you may artfully place it in the middle (or even at the end!) of that statement, like this: "Some people disagree with this theory, however, as it's never been proven right." See, that's all a single statement, not two bodged together, because the second phrase begins with "as".

And, of course, you may make a compound sentence (properly, using a colon or semicolon) in which the second statement uses however as described above.

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Examples above were not very good, because they dealt with sentences not very conducive to "however" in the first place. They also tried to use however to connect two clauses that should be separate sentences. That's not a good way to use "however". Here is a better example:

The Berfschnickel family has been blessed with many excellent athletes. Fred, however, was not one of them.

That flows much better than it does with "however" starting the second sentence:

The Berfschnickel family has been blessed with many excellent athletes. However, Fred was not one of them.

Even worse, joining them into one sentence:

The Berfschnickel family has been blessed with many excellent athletes, however Fred was not one of them.

That just doesn't work. If you want to make just one sentence, use "but", not "however".

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However can be used at the beginning and middle of a sentence. Here are some examples below. However, some sentences will need commas.

Beginning with however:

However you want to do it is fine with me.
However you need to, just be there in time.

With however in the middle:

I have a good friend. However she is deaf.
My friends and I wanted to go outside. However it is raining.

Be sure to remember past, present, and future tenses when using words like however.

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Thank you for your answer, but what does it add to the existing answers? –  Gilles Jan 14 at 1:22

protected by tchrist Aug 13 at 14:43

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