“However” is an adverb, meaning that it affects the verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs in a group by either modifying or qualifying them. As with many adverbs, “however” follows different grammatical rules depending on the context in which it’s used.
There are few situations in which you would put a comma before “however;” the only time you would do this is if it is being used as an interruption. Depending on its use, you may put a comma after it, a semicolon before and a comma after, or use no other punctuation.
Here are the most common punctuation combinations for “however.”
When to Put a Comma Before “However”
An interrupting phrase or aside is a phrase that appears in the middle of a sentence that stands alone and separates an independent clause into two dependent clauses. It’s usually used for emphasis. If “however” appears in the sentence as an interrupting phrase or an aside, then you would place a comma before and after the word.
We completed the project. We were not, however, very quick about it.
When to Put a Comma After “However”
“However” can be used to introduce a sentence that offers a contradicting or complicating stance to the sentence before it. You would place a comma after “however” if it is introducing a sentence.
The dog needs to be bathed. However, he is not a big fan of water.
When to Use a Semicolon and a Comma with “However”
When “however is being used as a conjunctive adverb – an adverb that joins two simple sentences into one complex sentence – you would place a semicolon before and a comma after it.
The day was cold; however, we still went outside.
When “However” Can Stand Alone
“However” does not always simply mean a contradiction. In the event that “however” is being used to mean “in whatever manner,” “regardless of how,” or something similar, you would not use any particular punctuation around it at all.
The problem was frustrating however you looked at it.
However you play it, the game can be fun.
Be careful using “however” this way; it can be easy to confuse the use of “however” as a conjunctive adverb with its use as “in whatever manner.” For example, consider these sentences.
The answers were clear however the results were tallied.
The answers were clear; however, the results were tallied.
In the first sentence, the clarity of the answer doesn’t depend on the manner in which the results were tallied. In the second sentence, the manner in which the results were tallied might have a significant impact on whether the answer was actually clear.
If you’re unsure how to punctuate “however” in your sentence, look at how it’s being used. Is it something that interrupts an independent clause? Is it the first word in the sentence? Is it joining two independent clauses? Is it used to mean “whatever way?”
You may try reading your sentence aloud. This will help you know how your brain automatically interprets the punctuation you’ve used. It can also show you if you’ve used the wrong form, as the sentence may mean something completely different than you intended it to.
Once you understand what your sentence is saying, then it’s simply a matter of memorizing the ways in which “however” is used and applying them.