Do You Know How to Use “However”? (Grammar Quiz)

“However” may be trickier than you think. Give this quiz a try:

Which of the following is/are correct in scientific writing?

  1. The mean score among the students was 20. The score among the staff was 10 however.
  2. This study used a small sample. Our previous study however used a large sample.
  3. This interview study reveals varied responses from 10 students, however small group data cannot be generalized.
  4. The interview responses from the students however small the group reveal problems with the new policy.

All of these sentences could be improved. First, “however” can be an adverb of contrast and its position is flexible. In (1), the contrast can be clarified by adding a comma before “however”, which is the last word: “The score among the staff was 10, however”. When a contrasting “however” is in the middle of a clause, as in (2), it is clearer with commas either side: “Our previous study, however, used a large sample.” The “however” could also be moved to the beginning, followed by a comma, similar to “In contrast,…” or “By contrast,…”: “However, our previous study used a large sample.

Secondly, “however” can be an adverb of concession (admitting the opposite), like “nevertheless”, “still”, “at the same time”, or “in spite of that”. In sentence (3), there are two independent clauses and each could be a full sentence, so either a full-stop/period or a semicolon is needed before the word “however”. Some authors do not add a comma after an initial “however”, but it is clearer to do so; adding a hyphen in the adjective “small-group” is even better: “However, small-group data cannot be generalized.”

Thirdly, “however” can be an adverb of degree, meaning no matter how, as in (4). It also indicates a concession, but there is no comma between “however” and the adjective “small”. Because the phrase “however small the group” is extra information, it belongs within a pair of commas: “The interview responses from the students, however small the group, reveal problems with the new policy.”

Quick Tip

Which of these alternatives is correct?

The student did well in the test but commented “(1) How ever / (2) However did I do that?”

Here, “however” is incorrect because it is not indicating contrast, concession, or “no matter how”; (1) is correct because “how” is a question word and “ever” emphasizes emotion—here, disbelief.

Grammar and punctuation are among the top reasons for being rejected by a journal. To ensure the language in your manuscript is publication-ready you should have a native-English-speaking expert in your field edit for grammar, clarity, and accuracy of scientific expression.

Learn more:

Scroll to Top