Maybe the stupidest (punctuation) question today

but I really need to know. What is the correct punctuation with words such as “however” – is it "blah blah blah**,** however**;" or is it "blah blah blah;** however**,** "?

Funny thing is I have always had problems with punctuation. Even with my dyslexia being as bad as it is, I don’t have problems with spelling or grammar. Just punctuation. I tend to use too much or too little. Go figure. <leelu>Please help.</leelu>

I believe it’s two commas in most cases; I’m not sure when or how you’d use one comma but I’ve seen it done. A semi-colon would be used only if the two sentences could stand alone, however, I am sure that there are exceptions.

When I got there, however, the store was closed. He went to the store; however, it was closed.


A semi-colon would be used only if the two sentences could stand alone**;** however, I am sure that there are exceptions.


That’s not the end of the story, however; sometimes you could justify putting a semi-colon before the word “however”. :slight_smile:
Basically you can’t use a hard-and-fast rule, you just use the punctuation as appropriate. Think of a semi-colon as being almost a full stop (period).

It depends on how you’re using it.

If you’re dropping it into a single clause, it’s commas, and if you’re using it to set off the second of two clauses, it’s semicolon before and comma after, as shown above.

These are not the only options, however; if you’re using it to modify the first of the two clauses, you do it as I just did.

Gods, no wonder I suck at punctuation. You people are of no help! The thing is, I use the word however a lot. I do the online chat support for the company for whom I work and I have to type things like “we do sample many of our items, however, we sample for colour and quality, not size.” I need a (if not hard and fast, general) rule for use of the punctuation, as I am loathe to come across as the typical IT chat representative. Even if all of our customers tend to be idiots who think AOL is the intarwebs, you know?

In your example sentence, I would use a semicolon before ‘however’. At least a couple of responders have told you that if the phrase can stand alone (or nearly so), a semicolon is appropriate; however, do as you please.

Yeh, I kinda got that until Colophon dropped his (her?) little bombshell. I will follow the “if it can stand alone, semicolon after the however” rule. You know, there are darn few things that just don’t click for me – punctuation is the biggest one.

Or just use “but”. No need to use 7 letters plus a comma when 3 letters will do the job.

“We do sample many of our items, but we sample for colour and quality, not size.”

As odd as it sounds, “however” is easier for me to type than “but.” I will almost always mistype the word but; however, the word however rolls off my fingers like silk sheets off my bed. I don’t know why it triggers my dyslexia, but it does. (yes, I had to re-rype it twice just then) It is like my issue with swapping “c” and “s” – it is something that I do, I know I do it, and the only way to avoid it showing in typed communications is for me to hunt and peck type, proofread and proofread again.

I know what you’re thinking: if I have so many issues with the written word, why am I one of the chat reps? The answer is simple – darn few people know about my dyslexia. I have adapted to it in my 35 years and it rarely shows through. When it does, most people just take it as a typo and think nothing of it. Besides that, even with my hunt and pecking, I type about 120 wpm (if not more) and can multitask (being on the phone and in chat at the same time is second nature to me, whereas the other reps in the building simply cannot do it without shortchanging one customer or the other.)

You can use “however” in more ways than simply in the place of a conjunction. It’s also a slightly harder stop than “but,” changing the flow of a sentence. I do, however, agree with your call for simplification.


I clarified the title for you.


OK, I’ll try to explain it a bit more clearly. When you use “however”, you’re either inserting it into a single clause – as in “The problem here, however, is that I punctuation confuses me.” – or you’re using it to link two clauses.

In the first case, use commas, as I have just done.

In the second case, you should be able to tell which clause the “however” belongs to. Link it to the clause it belongs to with a comma, and separate it from the other one with a semi-colon.


We do sample many of our items; however, we sample for colour and quality, not size.

“However” here is part of the second clause. The first part, “We do sample many of our items”, is one clause, you’re then using the “However” to introduce a second clause.


That’s not the end of the story, however; sometimes you have to punctuate differently.

Here, “however” is part of the first clause. You couldn’t write: “That’s not the end of the story. However, sometimes you have to punctuate differently.” without chaging the meaning.

In both cases, the semi-colon separates two stand-alone clauses.

Thanks. I have had this explained before, but this time, I will be bookmarking it, so I can remember it. Punctuation is my downfall. Sorry.

Just (slightly) hijacking to say I hate the second sentence, not for punctuation reasons, but for semantic reasons. It creates potential for confusing ‘however’ meaning ‘but’ and ‘however’ meaning ‘in whatever manner’.

It didn’t matter whether he had driven or taken the bus; however he got there, the store was closed.

There is one more thing, however. Dropping in a period after ‘however’.

There are several thing to consider, however:

  1. Dropping in a colon after ‘however’
  2. How ever it gets here.
  3. Whose on first?
  4. Who’s on first?

In my opinion, in general a period or semicolon should precede the antithetical “however” that is what is being asked about. Colophon’s recasting of the sample sentence is perfect:

However, it would also be stylistically appropriate to break this into two sentences:

We do sample many of our items. However, we sample for colour and quality, not size.

Finally, though it is not the topic of the discussion here, it needs to be clarified that good English usage also includes a quantitative “however”:

Proper punctuation demands that however complex a sentence you may write, you do not set off a quantitative “however” by punctuation.

Agreed. It was just off the top of my pointed head.