When using the word "however" in my story, I feel like using a semicolon before it disrupts the flow of words in the readers head too much.

So, is the usage of a comma or semicolon necessary in front of the word "however"?

This is the sentence I'm dealing with

Contrary to first opinions; however, the school was public and cost nothing to enter.

I'm trying to make these descriptions sound like a narrator was speaking in normal everyday dialogue, where we normally wouldn't pause before saying "however".

So, despite usage of a comma before "however" in an essay etc, is it OK to skip it in a novel?

  • 1
    Please add the entirety of the clause before the semicolon. A semicolon does a few things. See this excellent and humorous explanation of semicolon use.
    – tylerharms
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 23:05
  • comma required before however [citation needed]
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 12, 2019 at 19:36

2 Answers 2


Firstly, there should not be a semicolon after that first clause. Semicolons are typically used when separating two clauses of equivalent weight in meaning. To borrow some of your sentence, this would be an appropriate use of a semicolon:

The school was public; it cost nothing to enter.

That's assuming that the school's being public meant that it cost nothing to enter. Public schools in England though cost a lot to enter, so check that this is what you mean.

Speaking of which and more to the point, you mention that you want your narrator to speak in 'normal everyday dialogue'. But you don't say where the narrator is from, so it's not clear what you mean by 'normal'. Some speakers would not even use the word 'however'; they might say 'but' instead for example:

But, contrary to first opinions, the school was public and cost nothing to enter.

While some would raise a grammatical objection to starting a sentence with 'but', bending or breaking the rules to convey a voice in fiction is common practice. If your narrator is speaking more formally, you could go with an initial-position 'however':

However, contrary to first opinions, the school was public and cost nothing to enter.

Strunk and White in Elements of Style insist on a second-position 'however' but some believe this to be a fossilised prejudice. If the narrator is in fact writing his/her account as opposed to speaking it, or if they are reading it out, then you might go with Strunk and White's advice.

So correct the semi-colon as that's an important punctuation issue and doesn't make sense the way you have it currently. But do what you need to do with word placement to get it sounding as authentic as possible. I hope this helps.


The use of the semicolon is incorrect. The sentence should read

Contrary to first opinions, however, the school was public and cost nothing to enter.

No, you cannot omit the first comma in the sentence as constructed. The sentence also doesn't sound like one that most people would use in everyday dialogue, due to structure and word choice.

You might consider just getting rid of the first clause and starting with "However". Advice would be easier to render if the preceding text were given as well.

  • @guypursey I agree that people normally don't speak like this, I'm still unsure whether this narrator is the main character since I`m still describing setting at this point. In the next chapter the main character will be introduced. So I guess I should decide on this first.
    – Nick
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 0:24

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