According to the various sources here and elsewhere I can find, the following is inappropriate:

"When carrying knives however, it is best not to run."

and should instead be:

"When carrying knives, however, it is best not to run."

Yet, I find myself in normal speech often using the first form, and I wonder a) if it really is incorrect in this context, and b) why it is deemed incorrect.

The same intended meaning could also be achieved with: "However, when carrying knives, it is best not to run."

edit: yes this is a similar question to Should there always be a comma after "therefore","However" etc.? , which has helpful answers. If someone wants to close this question, fine, to me this is a more specific question though.

  • Speech and writing are different beasts. Commas surround paranthetical elements to aid the reader.
    – Stu W
    Sep 21, 2017 at 15:16
  • Sure, but how would a leading comma aid the reader, in this case?
    – Charlie
    Sep 21, 2017 at 15:19
  • 2
    What did your 'various sources' say? I doubt there's much more to be said. Except that punctuation is often a matter of convention and style and rarely, if ever, a matter of grammar. Sep 21, 2017 at 15:38
  • That's why I'm asking here, I saw good reasons for a number of the recommendations related to 'however', but not for this case.
    – Charlie
    Sep 21, 2017 at 15:40
  • Look at examples of Today however was different in Google Books. It's true that most writers put a comma before and after the word however, but there are plenty who dispense with either or both, and it would be pedantic to say they're "wrong". Sep 21, 2017 at 16:30

2 Answers 2


You are using the word however parenthetically. The main meaning of the sentence is the same as "When carrying knives it is best not to run" but the parenthetical however adds the information that this in some way contradicts a previous statement*. The commas here are parenthetical commas reflecting this sort of use. They're a bit like parentheses ( and ), hence the name, but not quite as strongly pulled from the flow of the sentence

Yet, I find myself in normal speech often using the first form

No, you find yourself in normal speech using a single pause. While there's a relationship between pauses in speech and commas in writing (the latter originating as a way to convey the former) they're not entirely the same thing, especially if you aren't reporting dialogue. Both the pause and the commas serve to make your meaning clearer, and that's the more important thing. In both cases they serve to show that the however is outside of the main argument of the sentence.

*Sometimes our motive for adding the information that it contradicts is simply to point out that we realise it contradicts, as contradicting yourself can make it seem that what you are saying must be at least partly untrue, so we catch that objection before it's made.

  • Great - I'd still be very curious to hear reasoning as to why a single pause is effective in speech, while two commas are deemed necessary in writing.
    – Charlie
    Sep 21, 2017 at 15:33
  • That's tricky, though I'd note that as well as pausing afterwards one would generally also say however with a rise in pitch. That's not as easily conveyed in writing, especially if in cases where one can't use italics.
    – Jon Hanna
    Sep 21, 2017 at 15:34

I see the dependency in "When carrying knives however, it ..." as "however" referring to the manner of carrying the knives, i.e. in whatever manner you're carrying them. (granted this is unlikely to be what anyone would intend to mean). By setting "however" off with commas, it's unambiguous that the word is being used to merge the two clauses.

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