In the course of a serial savaging of Strunk and White, first Mark Liberman and then Geoff Pullum analyze the prescriptivist pair’s strange insistence that “however” must not come at the beginning of a sentence; Mark then extends the analysis to other adverbs and suggests that there may have been “a large-scale change in adverb-placement fashions at the end of the 19th century.” Most interesting. And the investigation involves an extremely useful link: the Hyper-Concordance of the Victorian Literary Studies Archive, covering a wide range of authors.


  1. I love the “however” rule. No, it is not intuitive. But it does have a kind of elegance. If you want to know for sure that it is not intuitive, check (besides Mark Twain) ordinary legal prose. About every other sentence starts with “however.” However else you might explain it, it’s the writing of people who use language instrumentally with no concern for style (however culturally constructed the idea of “style” might be).

  2. Well, any arbitrary rule picked up by fastidious writers will take on a sheen of “elegance.” If for some reason Henry James and suchlike had decided the word “but” was vulgar and to be avoided at all costs and substituted the word “contrariwise,” that would seem elegant too. It still wouldn’t have anything to do with the English language.

  3. I’ve never succeeded in reading Elements of Style and never have had any feeling for White. And while the New Yorker during that period was a fine magazine, they wouldn’t have published Melville or Faulkner and probably not Hawthorne or Thoreau or even Mark Twain, and while I love Thurber and Benchley and Perelman, they aren’t really Nobel caliber.
    But jeez, I’m starting to feel sorry for those guys, the way Pullum is beating up on them. There’s gotta be someone in the world who still loves those poor slumps.

  4. However you may think about it, however, isn’t it beginning a sentence with however and a comma that is supposedly a problem?

  5. However that may be, Oranckay, the “however” that is functionally the same as “howsoever” is not or should not be at issue here. That “however”, like “howsoever”, generally does not come with a retinue of commas; and it is well that you have indirectly drawn attention to this difference. However could that difference have been missed? Ah, and there’s another “however” that is not here at issue: the one that merely intensifies “how”, in “how could that have been missed?” (Cf. “Whatever” versus “what ever”, by the way.)

  6. When “however” means “in whichever way”, it may start a sentence or clause, and should not be set off in commas. On the other hand, when “however” means “nonetheless”, it should not start a clause or sentence, and it should be set off in commas.
    However you use it, it should be used properly. If, however, you cannot use it correctly, then don’t use it at all.

  7. Satish, you haven’t been paying attention. That “rule” has no basis in the actual facts of the English language; it’s simply an invention that’s become entrenched because “style” guides endlessly repeat it.

  8. Thanks alot for your response.
    Well, I have searched again and found that I was wrong.
    The various ways of using “However” are:
    1. Used with an adjective or adverb to mean ‘to whatever degree’:
    He wanted to take no risks, however small.
    She has the window open, however cold it is outside.
    2. In whatever way : However you look at it, it’s going to cost a lot.
    3. Used to introduce a statement that contrasts with something that has just been said:
    He was feeling bad. He went to work, however, and tried to concentrate.
    We thought the figures were correct. However, we have now discovered some errors
    NOTE: Only in this case, “however” will be surrounded by commas.
    4. Now, when “ever” is used to emphasize “how”, meaning ‘in what way or manner’, it is written as a separate word:
    How ever did you get here so quickly?

  9. old file not found , however , a file the same name was found. no update done since file contents do not match

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