When learning English, you will likely encounter words and phrases that seem to serve similar functions. They might appear interchangeable at a glance, but context and subtle distinctions in meaning can lead to different usage. One such pair of words is “but” and “however.” Though both can introduce a contrast, understanding the nuanced differences can be quite enlightening.
How to use “but”
“But” is a coordinating conjunction. This means it joins two ideas that are typically of equal importance or structure. When you use “but,” you are showing a direct contrast between two statements. For example:
- She loves coffee, but she doesn’t drink it after 5 pm.
- I wanted to go to the beach, but it started raining.
- He wanted to buy the book, but it was too expensive.
- The concert was loud, but the music was fantastic.
- She studied hard for the test, but she found it challenging.
- They planned to hike the entire trail, but they ran out of time.
- I like the design of the shirt, but the colour doesn’t suit me.
Rules for using “But”:
- “But” is often used between two independent clauses as part of a compound sentence.
- We put a comma before it but when the clauses are very short this can be seen as optional.
How to use “however”
“However” is a conjunctive adverb. It works more like a bridge between two sentences, indicating a contrast or opposing idea. It provides a pause, allowing the reader or listener to process the first idea before introducing the contradictory information. For example:
- She loves coffee. However, she doesn’t drink it after 5 pm.
- I wanted to go to the beach. However, it started raining.
- He’s allergic to cats. However, he adopted one because he loves them so much.
- The museum was closed for renovation. However, they still conducted virtual tours.
- They missed the bus in the morning. However, they managed to arrive on time by taking a cab.
- She doesn’t like spicy food. However, she enjoyed the spicy curry at the new restaurant.
- He never watched horror movies. However, he agreed to see one with his friends.
Note that these could also be rewritten with a semi-colon before “however”:
- She loves coffee; however, she doesn’t drink it after 5 pm.
- I wanted to go to the beach; however, it started raining.
- He’s allergic to cats; however, he adopted one because he loves them so much.
- The museum was closed for renovation; however, they still conducted virtual tours.
- They missed the bus in the morning; however, they managed to arrive on time by taking a cab.
- She doesn’t like spicy food; however, she enjoyed the spicy curry at the new restaurant.
- He never watched horror movies; however, he agreed to see one with his friends.
We usually only use the semi-colon version to show a very close link between the two clauses, though.
Rules for using “However”:
- When “however” is used after a full stop or semi-colon, it should be followed by a comma.
- When “however” is inserted into the middle of a clause, it is set apart by two commas: “He did not, however, remember to bring the bag.”
But vs However: Which is correct?
Both “but” and “however” can be correct. They are different parts of speech and so you need to use them in slightly different ways. Ultimately, using “however” shows more formality and a slightly bigger level of contrast. For example:
- He’s allergic to cats, but he adopted one anyway.
- He’s allergic to cats. However, he adopted one anyway.
These two sentences are both correct. The first one might be considered slightly less formal, though. The second one is more formal and because it starts a new sentence there is a slightly longer pause between the two ideas, showing a greater degree of contrast.
If you liked this article, you might want to learn about subordinating conjunctions vs conjunctive adverbs.