Emerging from a 10-week escape into the world of autism software engineering, I’ve been thinking about “however.” In a comment on my last post, Can You Spot the Sentence Fragment, I cited “however” as a word that introduces full sentences:
…something can contain a subject and predicate and still not be a complete sentence if it begins with certain function words. “Which” (and various which-phrases) is one example (see http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/can-you-start-a-sentence-with-“which).
So is “though” (http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/120981/using-though-at-the-beginning-of-the-following-sentence)–unlike “however”.
“However, he won” is a full sentence; “Though he won.” is not. And punctuating “Though, he won” like “However, he won” only makes things awkward. (As I argue earlier, modifiers of sentence fragments don’t lend themselves to commas).
“However,” however, is actually ambiguous–as we see when we strip it of its comma:
However, he won.
However he won.
Re-read the second sentence, and you’ll see another meaning emerging: an incomplete proposition that could be completed, for example, as follows:
However he won, he did win.
This “however” belongs to a whole family of words ending in “ever,” none of which introduces a complete sentence:
Whoever voted for him…
Whatever he did to win…
Whenever he tweets…
And adding a comma only makes things worse:
Whatever, he did to win.
“Whatever,” though, is also ambiguous. Sometimes, like “though” in the previous sentence, it can be offset from the rest of the sentence with a punctuation mark. In which case it does introduce a full sentence–rather than a fragment like the one you’re reading right now.
“Whatever,” you might be thinking at this point. “Language is a mess; we all have different ears for it.”
But if the (somewhat) arbitrary rules for what’s a complete sentence and what isn’t nonetheless intrigue you, stay tuned for a post on “whatever.”