Can you start a sentence with ‘however’?

The user manual will tell you not to start a sentence with However, but writers have been doing it for centuries. It’s a good style choice to make.

Some people strut their stuff in our language, wearing heavy boots confident and well-equipped that they’ve mastered the rules and regulations of English enough that they never worry about things. like whether they should use it or not. that thing or which. And then there’s the rest of us, staggered and carried with us by a vague and permanent sense of anxiety that every language choice we make, no matter how innocuous it may seem, contains full of danger. However… actually, before we deal with this feeling of anxiety, let’s consider the first word of this sentence, which is the kind of thing that bothers us.

What can go wrong using However? So a lot.


Usage experts have advised people not to start sentences with ‘however’ for at least a hundred years. However, many famous writers—including Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë—have used the word in this way.

However. Bury it between commas or replace it with But or However.—Sheridan Baker, The Complete Stylist1966

But its use for How And when EQUAL, “However Can he do it?” should be avoided as a vulgarism; while its employment in the sense of “to what extent; at all” … is provincial and ancient.—Frank Vizetelly, A Desk-Book of Errors in English1920

Avoid starting sentences with However when the meaning is “however.”—William Strunk Jr. & EB White, Elements of style1959

Is there a rule against “however”?

In case there isn’t enough to make you pause every time you use it However in the future, even more: in his 1926 Dictionary using modern EnglishHW Fowler helpfully sorts out his fallacious opinions on the use of However into four main categories, solving problems when However come too early in a sentence, too late, and yes or no but nevertheless is redundant (spoiler alert: he thinks yes).

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We are not sure when the restrictions on However begin, although an article in Chicago Daily from 1920 included a statement in parentheses about “a purist told us one should never begin sentences with however,” so it’s clearly been around for a while. century or more.

main thing about However what many people seem to remember is that there is some problem with putting it at the beginning of a sentence. Often this is expressed simply as “do not start the sentence with ” However,” and other times, the ban is more nuanced (like that of Strunk & White), specifying that However Don’t start a sentence when the meaning is “however,” “yet,” or “but.”

“Nevertheless” at the beginning of a sentence

This is more of a stylistic choice than anything else, as we have a large body of evidence of writers using However to begin a sentence, usually with the meaning “however.”

“However, I’m sure James didn’t drink that much.”—Jane Austen, Northanger Monastery1818

However, he persisted in taking care of him, and suggested that he use the Horse to drive him to the next Town, where he could have the facilities to dry his clothes and get some refreshments. indoors.—Mary Davys, cousin1725

Oh, there’s no excuse for women’s capriciousness. However, I am talking about Miss Moore.—Charlotte Brontë, Duke of Zamorna1838

However, as the Spectator, I was allowed in, and with the rest of them went straight to the Temple.—Silence Dogood (Benjamin Franklin), Letter to The New-England CourantMay 14, 1722

Although there have been many proposed restrictions on how However used, there has never been any strong agreement about them, and somehow we all seem to have had a hard time communicating with each other using this word. However can be used to start a sentence, it can be used in conjunction with Butand you can put it anywhere you want in the sentence, as long as you do so carefully.

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So put your shoes on with confidence and stop worrying about using However. There are better things in life for you to make time for.

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Categories: Usage Notes

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