• 2-minute read
  • 30th April 2016

How to Use the Word ‘However’

The word ‘however’ is used a lot in academic writing, particularly when introducing a contrast or comparison. But ‘however’ has more than one meaning, so you should take care when using it.

However (Any Way You Want It)

While not specifically about the Journey song, one meaning of ‘however’ is ‘in whatever way’. We could therefore write:

However you want it, that’s the way you need it.

Along similar lines, ‘however’ can also mean ‘to whatever extent’:

I will get tickets to the Journey concert, however long it takes.

When used to ask a question, this sense of ‘however’ means ‘how under the circumstances’ and usually communicates a sense of disbelief:

However can you still care about Journey in the twenty-first century?

Journey Band
What? Journey are still cool! WHY ARE YOU ALL STARING AT ME!?! [Photo: Matt Becker]

However (Introducing Contrasts)

A common use of ‘however’ in academic work is indicating that something contrasts with or contradicts something said previously. This sense of ‘however’ is a conjunctive adverb used to connect two statements:

I love Journey. I am not, however, a fan of Bon Jovi.

In the above, the ‘however’ in the second sentence indicates a comparison is being made, serving as a synonym for ‘but’. The sentences could thus be rewritten as:

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I love Journey, but I am not a fan of Bon Jovi.

Note that this form of ‘however’ is separated from the main sentence by commas.

Can I Use ‘However’ at the Start of a Sentence?

The short answer here is ‘yes’. The idea that it’s wrong to begin a sentence with ‘but’ isn’t strictly true anyway. And even if it were, it wouldn’t apply to ‘however’.

The reason we’re sometimes taught not to start a sentence with ‘but’ is to guard against accidentally writing an incomplete sentence. But ‘however’ can only be used to link complete sentences, so this isn’t usually an issue.

Furthermore, by placing ‘however’ at the start of the sentence you can even add emphasis, since it foregrounds the contrast being made:

Journey are a good band. However, Midnight Oil are better.

But if you really want to avoid using ‘however’ at the beginning of a sentence, you can always connect two independent clauses with a semicolon instead:

Journey are a good band; however, Midnight Oil are better.

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