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.
Commonly confused words are covered in more depth and with quizzes in the following online courses: