A word that connects one phrase or clause to another is called a conjunction (literally join). Common examples are and & or. When an adverb is used this way, it’s called a conjunctive adverb. Conjunctive adverbs, which we’ll call simply “clause links”, may show, for example, cause and effect, sequence, contrast, or comparison.
Here’s a partial list of common clause links: also, besides, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, in fact, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, on the other hand, otherwise, similarly, subsequently, then, therefore, though, thus, and yet.
Clause Link Punctuation
Case 1—Two Main Clauses: Clause links that join two main clauses, as in the graphic above, require a semicolon before the clause link and a comma after. Example:
He wanted to ride his bike; however, it just continued to rain.
Case 2—One Main Clause:
Case 2a—When a clause link starts a sentence, it’s followed by a comma. Example:
He wanted to ride his bike. However, it just continued to rain.
Case 2b—When a clause link is in the middle of a sentence, thereby interrupting it, there should be a comma before and after the clause link. Example:
No matter how hard it rained, however, he continued to ride his bike.
Case 2c—When a clause link ends a sentence, it’s preceded by a comma. Example:
He thought it was too rainy to walk. He did ride his bike, however.
Problems with Conjunctive Adverbs
- Incorrect examples: He wanted to ride his bike, however, it just continued to rain (where a comma is used to separate the two thoughts, as one would do with a normal conjunction like and or or). Worse yet, this kind of sentence is often written without any punctuation at all. (He wanted to ride his bike however it just continued to rain. The problem is that the person writing it was speaking it in his or her head, pausing in just the right places, but never inserting the punctuation marks on paper that correspond to those pauses.
- Many clause link words have several grammatical uses. For instance, however can serve as an adverb modifier (e.g., You can try however hard you want to, but you won’t change my mind.). Here, no punctuation is required, and none should be used.
The above rules are mostly unbreakable, and writers should be careful when using these clause links.
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