Can You Start a Sentence With “However”?

If you are a writer, there is one thing that you’re constantly reminded of: unlike formal written English, spoken or conversational English is too unregulated.

When we speak, we usually have the liberty of abusing the Queen’s language—throwing in a bunch of adverbs, confusing which for that, omitting important articles, and committing other atrocious grammatical crimes.

There are so many rules governing this beautiful language, some formal and others created by overzealous grammar cops. However, let’s forget these hardworking officers and focus on this very important question: “Can you start a sentence with “however?”

Let’s answer that question and a couple of other related ones.

starting a sentence with “however”

Can You Start a Sentence With “However”?

Yes, it is okay to start a sentence with this word. However, the sentence needs to make sense, and you need to know how to punctuate it (with periods, commas, and semicolons).

Here are a couple of instances where you can or cannot use “however.”

When to Start a Sentence with ‘However’

The word “however” has many synonyms, and you have to look at which synonym fits the context before deciding whether to use “however.”

For instance, if it means “nevertheless”, then it’s more than fit to start a sentence.

Examples:

  1. I know you love her unconditionally. However, aiding and abetting a criminal is a serious offense.
  2. This might look like a controlled situation. However, it takes just one incident to spark a full-blown violent fracas.

You can also use the word “however” if it means “to whatever extent” or “In Whatever Manner.” In this case, it is used in modifying a clause, and no comma is used immediately after the word.

Examples:

  1. However easy this sport may seem, becoming a good team is a grueling process.
  2. He is always unfazed. However good the opponent is, he approached the fight with a warrior mentality.
he approached the fight with a warrior mentality

When Not To Start a Sentence with “However”

I don’t think there’s a general rule against using “however” to start a sentence. However, mastering grammar isn’t easy for all of us.

Sometimes, we use “however” when we are supposed to use “but.” A good number of officers in the Grammar police force say that using “but” to start a sentence is a no-no but The Chicago Manual of Style (Garner’s Modern American Usage) disagrees.

Chicago advises that it’s better to use “but” than “However.” Quoting this style guide, “however is more ponderous and has less impact than the simple but.

So, when you think “but” fits the context and your style manual has no qualms about using it to start a sentence, you don’t have to use “however.”

Using “However” with Commas

When you use “however” to mean “nevertheless,” “be that as it may,” or something similar, you have to use a comma immediately after “however.”

Examples:

  1. School might seem worthless to the current generation. However, they will soon find out that they need trained doctors, engineers, and other professionals to keep things going.
  2. The train usually arrives at 10:00 am. However, on this day,  

 However, if “however” denotes “to whatever extent,” you don’t have to use a comma immediately after it. You can use a comma but not immediately after “however” like in the example (2) below.

Examples:

  1. However tough it may get, she will always find her inner beast and unleash it.
  2. James always comes first. However extreme the weather is, he will always adapt.
however extreme the weather is, he will always adapt.

Using “However” with Semicolons

For those of you who are not sold on starting a sentence with “however,” there’s a simple solution.

Instead of using it after a period, you can use a semicolon. So now you have two main clauses only separated by a semicolon.

Example:

Instead of: The sound quality of his music is too good. However, the lyrical content leaves much to be desired.

Write this: The sound quality of his music is too good; however, the lyrical content leaves much to be desired.

This way, “however” only introduces a transition but not a completely new sentence.

Uses of ‘However’ In a Sentence

1. Start a Contrasting and Contradicting Sentence

Most of the time when we use “However,” we’re introducing a sentence that negates or contrasts with the sentence before it.

In this case, “However” alerts the reader of an opposing transition. If this is how you intend to use “however” this way, you have to put a comma after it.

Example:

“We were ready to go. However, the phone rang, and we were notified of the postponement.”

2. Connect Contrasting and Contradicting Sentences

We also use “however” to connect two contrasting sentences. If two full sentences have contrasting notions or are in opposition to one another but linked, we can use “however.”

We use a semicolon to separate the two sentences, like in the example below.

Example:

The two unconnected sentences: “The company wants a man for the job.” “Luke is an ex-offender.”

The two sentences connected: “The company wants a man for the job; however, Luke is an ex-felon.”

Using a semicolon instead of a period links those two statements a bit clearer.

3. Insert a less light contrast/interruption

“However” is also used to insert a contrast to the preceding word or phrase in a progressing sentence.

The contrast introduced by this “however,” is not as heavy as the others in the previous examples.

Example:

They can notify the people. I, however, don’t think it is necessary.

they can notify the people

4. As a Substitute For Regardless Of How,” Or “In Whatever Way”

“However” is also used as a synonym for “regardless of how” or “in whatever way.” If you want to use “however” to mean “regardless of how” or “in whatever way,” try using the two phrases first.

Examples:

She’ll do it, however the season ends.

However you look at it, the goal was offside.

Conclusion

There are a lot of people who debate the grammatical correctness of using “however” to start a sentence. However, there’s no formal rule against such usage, and it’s all a matter of opinion and choice.

Whether you want to use “however” to start a sentence or not is up to you (or your supervisor).

A few things to look out for are punctuation and context. Without correct punctuation, the whole sentence can mean something else, and if “however” is used in the context, then neither writing guides nor punctuation can back you up.

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About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.