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Common Problems with However, Therefore, and Similar Words

This page explains a type of error writers often make when using words like however, furthermore, therefore, thus, consequently, and moreover.

The problem occurs when writers use these words to conjoin sentences. Readers find the error to be distracting because it disrupts their expectation about where sentences should end.

Example Mistake

  • January may be the coldest month, however, it is a time of great beauty.

The boldface “however” and the comma after “month” are the problems. This is easy to correct. But first, here is some explanation.

A common problem writers face is the incorrect usage of conjunctive adverbs. Many times it is because they confuse them with coordinating conjunctions.

A coordinating conjunction is a familiar part of the English language and includes the following: and, but, or, nor, so, for, yet. A conjunctive adverb is not so common in everyday speech, but occurs frequently in written prose. These include the following: however, moreover, therefore, thus, consequently, furthermore, unfortunately.

Most of the time, problems occur when the writer uses a conjunctive adverb in the middle of a sentence when a coordinating conjunction is actually needed. But remember that conjunctive adverbs can be used in any part of a sentence.

This page addresses the problem that arises when conjunctive adverbs are used wrongly to connect two sentences. To avoid this problem, a basic rule to follow is this: If the two parts you are connecting can stand on their own as separate sentences, then you have probably misused the conjunctive adverb. If this is the case, you have a few options for fixing it. Usually a semicolon is the best choice, but you may also use a period or a coordinating conjunction.

Incorrect

Watering and feeding new plants is necessary for growth, however, too much water or fertilizer can kill them.

Erica felt as if she might faint from hunger, therefore, she decided a trip to McDonald’s was necessary.

Joyce Carol Oates is a novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet, moreover, she is a distinguished scholar.

All of these examples create comma splices because there are complete sentences to the left and the right of the conjunctive adverbs however, therefore, and moreover. The commas after “growth,” “hunger,” and “poet” create the comma splices. Here is the correct way to punctuate these sentences.

Correct

Watering and feeding new plants is necessary for growth, but too much water or fertilizer can kill them.

Erica felt as if she might faint from hunger. Therefore, she decided a trip to McDonald’s was necessary.

Joyce Carol Oates is a novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet; moreover, she is a distinguished scholar.

Notice that the first example replaced the conjunctive adverb with a coordinating conjunction, the second with a period, and the last used a semicolon. Because many of theses parts of speech can mean basically the same thing, it is tempting to use them the same way in a sentence. Just remember: coordinating conjunctions can conjoin sentences. Conjunctive adverbs cannot. This may be a bit confusing, but with practice and a sharp eye you can avoid making this common mistake.

by Athens Battles

Examples for this handout were adapted from:
Rosen, Leonard J., and Laurence Behrens.
The Allyn and Bacon Handbook. 3rd ed. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1997.

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