Punctuating however depends on where it falls in a sentence.
At the beginning or the end, set it off with a comma:
However, American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever.
American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever, however.
If however occurs in the middle of a sentence, use commas around both sides of the word (see cartoon above):
American presidential campaigns, however, seem to go on forever.
If it comes between two complete sentences you have a couple of choices:
Use a period and a capital letter: American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever. However, people are looking for ways to shorten the process.
Use a semicolon: American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever; however, people are looking for ways to shorten the process.
What you can’t do is put commas around both sides of however:
American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever, however, people are looking for ways to shorten the process. <———- This is a no-no.
It’s been my experience that when people see a very long sentence they immediately decide it’s a run-0n. In fact, you can have one sentence comprising thousands of words (even though no one would possibly want this), and it would not be a run-on, as long as it was structured correctly.
A run-on is a complete sentence, no matter how long or short, that is joined to another complete sentence by two different means:
- Jim is tall his brother is shorter. Here you have two complete sentences that have nothing to join them. This is the classic run-on.
- Jim is tall, his brother is shorter. Here the two sentences are joined by a comma, making what is known as a comma splice, another form of a run-on.
It’s easy to fix run-ons.
- You can put a period between the two sentences: Jim is tall. His brother is shorter. With very short sentences like these, using a period may seem a bit simplistic, but it’s not wrong.
- You can also use a semicolon between the two sentences, assuming they are closely related in subject matter: Jim is tall; his brother is shorter.
- You can add a connecting word: Jim is tall although his brother is shorter.
We most often write run-ons when we’re in a hurry. If we don’t take time to proofread (audibly—quietly so you can hear your own voice—and slowly), chances are we won’t catch them. But our readers may, and it’s best not to let that happen. It may not be fair, but we are often judged by our writing.
After writing about colons last week, I had a few requests for an explanation of semicolons; so here goes.
The semicolon has three uses:
1. It can take the place of a period when it appears between two closely related and complete sentences:
I wish I could go to the club with you; I’m just too tired.
2. When you use these transitional words in a sentence, put a semicolon in front of them and a comma after them:
; for example,
; in fact,
I wish I could go to the club with you; however, I’m too tired. (Do not put commas on both sides of the transitional words; if you do that, you’ll be writing a run-on sentence.)
3. When you have a long, complicated sentence, use semicolons between the items to make the sentence easier to read:
If you’re going camping you’ll need wood for the fire; an axe to chop the wood; matches to light it; food for at least two meals; pots and pans to cook it in; and utensils to cook and eat with.
Do you see how semicolons bring order to that sentence? If you used commas in their place, the eye would be flooded with commas and it would be much harder to keep each item straight.