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There are a lot of errors out there with the use of the word however. Not the however that is part of the whatever family, alongside wherever, but the however we use to make a contrast or contradiction. Perhaps this is because of the tendency of certain teachers to lump together all words that have the function of connecting words, clause or sentences as ‘connectives’, rather than giving them their precise grammatical appellations. Boo to you, certain teachers! If but, although and however are all called ‘connectives’, how are we supposed to know their different uses?

It’s a good job Andy’s Writing Tips is at hand to clean up the mess.

A more precise word than ‘connective’ is ‘conjunction’. However is not a conjunction. But is a coordinating conjunction that joins together two independent clauses as so:

My brother was given an ipad for Christmas, but he only uses it to play games.

You can call this a compound sentence. Notice we can’t say:

But he only uses it to play games, my brother was given an ipad for Christmas.

But you can say:

Although it is a small country, Ireland is well known around the world.

And:

Ireland is well known around the world although it is a small country.

Although is a subordinating conjunction, which joins a dependent (or subordinate) clause to an independent clause to make a complex sentence. More explanation of compound and complex sentences can be found at the relevant posts, but let’s return to the matter at hand: however.

However is not a coordinating conjunction or a subordinating conjunction; it is not a conjunction and is not used to join two clauses together. The following sentences, therefore, are wrong wrong wrong:

My brother was given an ipad for Christmas, however he only uses it to play games.

Newcastle was named after a Norman castle, however that castle is now over 900 years old.

However is actually an adverb. It has a connective function because it joins two ideas together to contrast them, but it does not join them together in the same sentence:

My brother was given an ipad for Christmas. However, he only uses it to play games.

Newcastle was named after a Norman castle. However, that castle is hardly new – it is now over 900 years old!

To draw the sentences into a closer union, use a semi-colon as so:

My brother was given an ipad for Christmas; however, he only uses it to play games.

However usually reposes at the beginning of the sentence, offset by a comma, but it can be placed elsewhere. Putting it at the end of a clause can give it more of the effect of an aside, or of deflating the expectations or pretensions of the sentence before:

He only uses it to play games, however.

He only uses it to play games, however, despite my parents’ good intentions.

It can be used mid-sentence, drawing attention, I think, to the arch intent of the speaker:

He only uses it, however, to play games.

My parents bought my brother an ipad to help him with his homework. Four hours a night of Angry Birds, however, did little to improve his grammar.

 

Challenge

Write three pairs of sentences with ‘however’ about your hopelessly lazy brother, who resists all your parents’ attempts to redeem him. Try to vary where you put however in the second sentence.

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