Very long ago, when I was young, my teacher once told me that there only should a period “.” or a semicolon ”;” in front of “however”, but never a comma “,”.

To be specific,

“xxx. However, xxx”


”xxx; however, xxx”

is right; whereas,

”xxx, however, xxx”

is wrong.

However, I rarely see such rules in people’s writings even those very formal ones.

The teacher was really knowledgeable that he wouldn’t have said that if that made no sense.

I’m now confused, and I’d appreciate it if any help is given.

  • 1
    Please provide an example of formal writing where "however" is flanked by two commas. And, by the way, teachers are human they can forget about exceptions, or choose to talk about them at a later date. I wouldn't worry so much, the correct usage of commas and semi-colons are not that big a deal in everyday life. They're only essential for formal essays, papers, and in novels. In speech, never. – Mari-Lou A Mar 9 '18 at 10:08

However is more complicated than that.

Your teacher's rule holds when however has the contrastive sense, approximately "in spite of that", AND it introduces a new independent clause.

But it does not hold when however falls later in a clause it modifies, OR when however introduces a fused relative clause and has the sense in whatever manner, OR however acts as an adverb of degree; in these cases it may (but not must) be comma-bracketed:

Bill failed. John, however, succeeded.
Bill failed. John succeeded, however.
Bill failed, however he approached the problem.
Bill failed, however hard he tried.

| improve this answer | |
  • I would say the comma is optional in the last sentence. "Bill failed however hard he tried" makes perfect sense as well. – user428517 Mar 7 '18 at 17:28
  • @sgroves What I said is that all the comma-bracketings in those sentences are optional--I use commas to indicate how I want the line to be spoken/heard. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 7 '18 at 17:31
  • @StoneyB Same, and whoops, I missed where you said that! – user428517 Mar 7 '18 at 19:54
  • I had forgotten the distinction between adverb of degree however and the relative pro-form however; excellent answer! There's another (informal?) usage of however, as an emphatic form of how, as in "However did you manage that?" (I read that recently in this great answer here.) – HeWhoMustBeNamed May 5 at 15:33

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