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The word “however” can have different functions within a sentence. Depending on the function, punctuation differs.
RULE: Use a semicolon or period in front and a comma after the word “however” when it is used as the first word in a sentence. The word “however” here is called a conjunctive adverb and shows a relationship between the two sentences.
We saw them earlier; however, they did not attend the function.
She said she sent the email on Friday; however, I did not get it.
Hank, Marty, and John helped. However, Mary, my sister, did not get well.
RULE: Use commas around the word “however” when it is in the middle of the sentence and a comma in front of it when it is at the end of the sentence. In this instance, the word “however” is a parenthetical.
I did not see him, however, until later in the week.
My surgeon, however, did not inform me of the complications.
She had several responsibilities in the company, however.
RULE: Use a comma in front of the word “however” when it is used to start a dependent clause that comes at the end of the sentence. Put commas around the clause if it is in the middle of the sentence.
I will stay, however long it might take.
He kept an eye on her, however engrossed he was in his work.
She decided to speak out, however painful it might be, about the tragedy.
This construction is idiomatic in English. When “however” begins this type of clause, in addition to being the introductory word for the clause, it is functioning as an adverb to modify the word that follows it. The clause is said to be “loosely attached” to the content of the sentence and therefore needs punctuation. This clause often comes at the end of the sentence.
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