What's the difference? You put a semicolon before however if a complete sentence precedes it and follows it. You put just a comma before however if it is an interruption within one sentence. The same is true if it is interrupting a clause within a larger sentence.
Here are some examples:
The log was hollow and had no bark [complete sentence]; however, the wood was still quite hard [another complete sentence].
The log was hollow and had no bark. The wood [not a complete sentence], however, was still quite hard [again, not a complete sentence].
The log was hollow. The bark was still attached [complete sentence], however, covering most of its surface [not a complete sentence].
Don't forget that the word however also has a second meaning, in the sense of "no matter how," and when used in that meaning, it is not a transition word, and thus requires no punctuation.
Challenge: Semicolon or comma or nothing before however
Replace the X with a semicolon, with a comma, or with nothing.
- The tiny bird explored every crevice of the logX however, it did not seem to find any food.
- Snow covered the ground within the woods; the roadX however, was clear.
- Beside the road, pools of melt water had formedX however, the road was completely dry.
- The bird flew down from a branch to forage in the clear space beside the road; the passing trafficX however, frightened it back.
- The bird returned to the roadsideX however, hoping to find a seed.
- What it found when it returnedX however, was something unexpected.
- The roadside was sprinkled with breadcrumbs, andX however you look at it, that bird's luck had finally turned.
Answers to the Last Grammar Challenge
Thanks to all our respondents. Almost all of you placed the semicolons and commas between sentences correctly. Here are the correct answers, presented by Chuck Jones:
- The house had a huge master suite, but the back yard was paved with asphalt.
- The kids loved their new, separate bedrooms; their parents loved the separate den.
- The renters can store their skis in the outdoor locker; the owners can store their belongings in the padlocked walk-in closet.
- The new house had a view of the ocean and a park, and the driveway had room for up to five vehicles. (there should be nothing after the word 'ocean')
Alternative answer: "Honestly, I would not have used either here; instead, I would place a semi-colon after 'park' and omit the 'and' after it." (Michael Salgy and Lisa J. Stumpf)
- A music room was the dream of the husband, but the wife really wanted a screened-in porch.
However, as some noticed, the X on number 4 was in the wrong place (thank you, Lisa J. Stumpf). It was not between two sentences. Placing a comma after ocean or not creates two different meanings. Without the comma, the house has a view of the ocean and a view of a park. With the comma, it means the house had a park and also had a view of the ocean. Personally, I think it would be rare for the house to have a park, but you might loosely say it has a park while meaning that it is near a public park. That's why I give slightly more credit to those who took out that X and did not put a comma after ocean.
Here are the winners, in random order: Lisa J Stumpf, Karla Marsh, Michael Salgy, Sonia Verma, Mindy Clark, Rita Martino, Katy Atkinson, Vera Sytch.
And here are those who had all the other punctuation correct and kept a comma after ocean, which is a possible answer to what ended up being a trick question because of the misplaced X: Jai Y. Shaw, Kolja Fuchs, Linda Wyche, Heather Morrow, Michelle Duran, Carla Craddock, David Simmerle, Jill McCauslin, Cathy Koloff, Sisa Stumpf, Carl Bechtold, Chris Zimmel, Sandra McGuire, Darius Zahedi, and Krista Allen.