But, however…

Consider this: In modern American and British fiction, “however” is used 2–3 percent as often as “but” (these numbers come from a survey of the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English). In modern American and British academic writing, on the other hand, it’s used about 34 percent as often. And at Wikipedia, it’s used 36 percent as often! And, yes, nearly all of these uses are as a conjunctive adverb.

Why so much in Wikipedia? Partly because the authors want to sound academically weighty, of course, and partly because Wikipedia has a lot of narrative, with its attendant turns and adversities — and partly because it is written and revised by multiple people. Every time someone adds a new perspective that contradicts something already in the article, it needs a conjunction to signal the shift: “Fats, such as butter or eggs, slow down yeast growth; however, others say the effect of fat on dough remains unclear, presenting evidence that small amounts of fat are beneficial for baked bread volume.” This also helps explain why less than 1 percent of uses of “however” in Wikipedia are at the end of a sentence (a bit less than in academic writing and about a quarter of the proportion in fiction).

–James Harbeck, However: Everything you need to know about a commonly abused word


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