Writing wrongs #2: that’s how(ever) for now!

‘However’ is often used incorrectly by all kinds of smart folks. And it’s used a lot. Unlike many more complicated things in English, there are hard and fast (and easy) rules to follow when you’re using this word, however you’re using it. Nail it and you’ll be smart and awesome and your writing will sparkle with a newfound confidence every time you whip it out. However, if you don’t, I’ll still be friends with you. Life’s just way too short.

There are two different ways you will need to use ‘however’.

  • When you’re making a contrasting or contradicting statement
  • When you’re using it to mean ‘in whatever/whichever way’ or ‘regardless of’

Ice cream is worth discussing

When people want to use however to explain something from a contrasting or contradictory point of view, the main mistake they make is plonking it in the middle of what looks like a sentence:

I really like vanilla ice cream, however chocolate is also good.

They might also add in an extra comma, just, well, because…

I really like vanilla ice cream, however, chocolate is also good.

These are both wrong. What’s happening here is known as a comma splice – where two sentences are incorrectly joined together with a comma. What this dessert-crazed person really means is:

I really like vanilla ice cream. However, chocolate is also good.
I really like vanilla ice cream; however, chocolate is also good.

So, when you’re introducing a statement with however that contrasts or contradicts something that’s come before it, you need to:

  • Start a new sentence (or independent clause, with a semi-colon)
  • Insert a comma after the word however

You don’t have to put ‘however’ first, however. It can come at the end of a sentence preceded by a comma, like it did just then, or it can come sandwiched in the middle between a pair of commas:

Strawberry ice cream, however, is also good.

Pizza is also a notable talking point

Every so often you might want to use however to mean ‘in whatever way’ or ‘regardless of’. It would be wrong to say:

However, you look at it, there wasn’t enough pepperoni on that pizza.

This clearly isn’t contradicting anything. The correct usage is:

However you look at it, there wasn’t enough pepperoni on that pizza.
I still want pizza however late it is.

When used in this way, don’t use a comma after however.

And if you really want to emphasise the ‘ever’ part, then use two words instead:

How ever did you eat all that pizza?

There’s a chance you knew all of this already. However, if you didn’t, you might want to hire me to edit or proofread something important for you, so please get in touch.