Five years ago in LLOG

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Following up on a suggestion to bring back classic (or at least old) posts, here's one I'd completely forgotten: "Was Strunk imitating Quintilian?", 3/28/2009. Bill Walderman asked whether the "rule" prohibiting clause-initial position for however might have been an imitation of Latin and Greek second-position elements, and especially the treatment of autem.

After a two-cup-of-coffee research project, I concluded that Bill's idea is a plausible one:

[T]his whole line of reasoning is speculative at best. But it might help explain where Will Strunk got the strange impulse to declare that Mark Twain used however incorrectly two-thirds of the time.



  1. A.D. said,

    March 28, 2014 @ 10:25 am

    I also tend to use other Latin postpositives in this way when attempting to write English prose more eruditely.

    'then' (igitur)
    'indeed' (enim)
    'therefore' (ergo)
    'nevertheless' (tamen)

  2. Eric P Smith said,

    March 28, 2014 @ 10:48 am

    @A.D. In particular, English 'then' is usually used post-positively when it means "in these circumstances", corresponding to Latin "quae cum ita sint": "Are you happy, then, for me to come next week?"

  3. BV said,

    March 28, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

    I'd be careful with using 'then' straight after a sentence-initial subject as it might make you sound like you're making a police statement, as in the case of Derek Bentley, pardoned with the help of forensic linguistics…

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 29, 2014 @ 10:05 am

    Here's a recent comment by Mike L in alt.usage.english:

    'As so often, this is more a style matter than a grammar one. Just to recap, I avoid putting the "nevertheless" kind of "however" at the beginning of a sentence because I like to separate it from the "however quickly" or "however beautiful" kind. And there is also the profound early influence from Latin which Jerry mentioned.'

    (That Jerry is me, if it mattered.)

    Incidentally, "nevertheless" has no trouble going at the beginning of a sentence, but "though" with the same sense can't—not for any prescriptive reason, though. Maybe in some people's grammar the same rule applies to "however", however that happened.)

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 29, 2014 @ 10:07 am

    Kindly ignore unbalanced right parenthesis. Thank you.

  6. Ben Hemmens said,

    March 30, 2014 @ 6:11 am

    Howevers aren't wrong, but in the writing of German-speaking scientists, there are often too many of them. They often seem to think every sentence after the first one in a paragraph has to begin with however, moreover or furthermore. I have the suspicion that somebody's teaching them this. A zombie rule for non-native speakers!

  7. m said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 3:29 pm

    Well, in German you don’t start a new sentence until you need an ‘however.’ (looking at some random newspaper article, there might be more truth in this then I expected.)

  8. Ben Hemmens said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 12:53 am

    That's one way of looking at it ;-) What's really going on is that German has a whole family of little words that are used to mark a connection between one sentence and the previous sentence, and things feel bare without using one; and that German-speaking writers often aren't fully aware of the sequencing of information that would seem natural in English or fully proficient in the whole range of sentence-building maneuvers we use to achieve it.

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