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But and however

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By Mary Morel

But and however are often used interchangeably to mean ‘yet’, but they are punctuated differently because however in this context is a conjunctive adverb, (also known as an adverbial conjunct) not a conjunction.

Jim lost a fortune gambling, but he still lives in a mansion.
Jim lost a fortune gambling; however, he still lives in a mansion.
Jim lost a fortune gambling. However, he still lives in a mansion.

But is often regarded as more informal than however.

Some people think you can’t use but at the beginning of a sentence. But you can. The Macquarie Dictionary (2005) says:

‘Some writers object to sentences beginning with but on the grounds that it is a conjunction which should link clauses within a sentence and should not appear to link a new sentence with the previous one. In fact many writers use but at the beginning of a sentence and there is no reason to object to the practice provided that it is not overdone.’

But and however have some distinct meanings of their own.

  • But means ‘on the contrary’ and ‘with the exception that’.

I like everyone but her.

  • However can also be used to mean ‘by whatever means, condition or state’.

I will get there however I can.

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