Your grammar questions answered
Punctuation with ‘however’
Question: I have a question relating to punctuation when the word ‘however’ is used in a sentence.
Workplace law requires hazardous risks to be eliminated, however, if it is not reasonably practicable, then the risks must be minimised.
Workplace law requires hazardous risks to be eliminated, however if it is not reasonably practicable, then the risks must be minimised.
Which of the above is correct, or are they both OK to use? Lately I’ve been seeing the use of the second style.
Answer: The ‘correct’ way is to use a semicolon before ‘however’ and a comma after it when it separates two independent clauses.
Workplace law requires hazardous risks to be eliminated; however, if it is not reasonably practicable, then the risks must be minimised.
The rationale is that ‘however’ when used to join two independent clauses is an adverbial conjunction (also known as a conjunctive adverb) rather than a conjunction.
However, I think so few people understand this rule that a new style is emerging.
The Macquarie Dictionary says: ‘There is evidence to show that there has been a further step in the process which has turned however in the sense of “but, nevertheless” into a conjunction, as in I thought he was coming, however he failed to arrive. The older generation may find that this use is contrary to what they were taught, but the younger generation is increasingly accepting of it.’
If you forget the traditional rule, the second sentence you gave is in line with the Macquarie Dictionary advice.
I am still old-fashioned and use the semicolon and comma!
Which and that
This is an old perennial, but I was asked again recently at a training course.
The traditional rule is to use ‘which’ to add extra information that could be deleted and ‘that’ when the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence. You can sometimes delete ‘that’ without loss of meaning.
- The book, which my son lent me, was riveting. (The extra information is between commas.)
- The book was riveting. (The sentence makes sense without the extra information.)
- I wore the dress that my aunt gave me.
- I wore the dress my aunt gave me.
But it is not as simple as that. Today, many people use ‘which’ instead of ‘that’.
I wore the dress which my aunt gave me.
With ‘which’ and ‘that’ we’re talking about restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, sometimes called defining and non-defining clauses. It may help to think of ‘which’ as describing and ‘that’ as defining. (Restrictive and defining clauses are essential for the meaning of a sentence, and non-restrictive and non-defining clauses are not essential for meaning.)
Occasionally, using the traditional rules adds clarity. The Australian Commonwealth Style manual gives this example.
- ‘The research findings that were likely to cause embarrassment were never circulated.
- The research findings which were likely to cause embarrassment were never circulated.
- The research findings, which were likely to cause embarrassment, were never circulated.’
It goes on to say: ‘The first example makes it clear that the research findings not circulated were the ones likely to cause embarrassment. In the third example, it is plain that none of the recommendations was circulated. The situation described in the middle example is ambiguous: were all of the findings withheld or just the embarrassing ones?’
Board paper update
Write to Govern workshop in Sydney (Tuesday 24 January 2017)
If you live in Sydney and want to learn more about writing board papers, join me at the Governance Institute of Australia for a Write to Govern workshop.
Structure and coherence: How to write a board paper that flows well
My latest blog looks at some structuring principles for board papers.
Thinking about strategy from a board’s perspective
I talk to Barry Rafe about strategy relating to board papers. Barry is a consultant who does a lot of work with the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Specialist e-courses – emails and board papers
I have split my online courses into two sections:
- Self-paced courses, which are about grammar and cost A$39 GST incl a month
- Specialist e-courses, which have a fixed price with access for one year
The first two specialist e-courses are:
- emails@work: How to write effective business emails – A$39 GST incl
Write to Govern: How to write board and committee papers – A$495 GST incl
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Do you keep a journal?
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6 mistakes you should never make in a work email
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Why I don’t edit their rough drafts
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The Plain English Campaign’s newsletter
‘Pikestaff’ covers a range of topics, including deceptive language, sign language and run-on sentences. Read more.
Quote of the month
‘One can never have enough socks,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.’
I often give books as presents. What books are you giving this year?