Legistics
However

Legistics est un recueil d’articles portant exclusivement sur les questions de rédaction en anglais des textes législatifs. La nature même de l’ouvrage fait en sorte qu’il n’est offert qu’en anglais.

Recommendation

Legislative counsel should not be reluctant to use the word "however".

Background

Quite often a legislative text contains conflicting rules. Using the word "however" can help to make clear which rule prevails, by signalling that what follows overrides what precedes. "However" can be used at the start of a subsection to show that the subsection overrides the previous one; this way, the override can be indicated without a cross-reference to the previous subsection, as would be needed with "despite". (See also the note on Alternatives to "notwithstanding" .)

More commonly, "however" is used to show the relation between clauses within a single provision, with the two clauses forming either one sentence with a semi-colon or two separate sentences. As a subsection may consist of more than one sentence, drafters may punctuate the provision in either of these two ways (see the note on More than one sentence in a section or subsection). There is no hard and fast rule about whether it would be better to divide the provision into two sentences or to keep it as only one, although, in general, the longer the clauses are, the better it would be to have separate sentences.

Examples

  1. One sentence punctuated with a semi-colon

    If an individual requests the opening of a retail deposit account at a point of service at which the opening of such an account can only be initiated, the member bank is not required to open the account at that physical location; however, the bank shall, subject to these Regulations, open the account at another physical location.

    The two implant registration cards referred to in subsection (1) shall be printed in both official languages; however, the manufacturer may choose to provide four cards, two in English and two in French.

  2. Separate sentences

    At least 25% of the directors of a corporation must be resident Canadians. However, if a corporation has less than four directors, at least one director must be a resident Canadian.

    An order is not a regulation for the purposes of the Statutory Instruments Act. However, it must be published in the Canada Gazette.

  3. Separate subsections

    (1) The Board may delegate to the Chairperson, a committee of directors or an officer of the Foundation any of the powers or rights of the Board.

    (2) However, the Board may not delegate any power or right of the Board to….

  4. Alternative to "however"

    If for any reason a drafter is reluctant to use separate sentences or clauses set off by a semi-colon in a provision, the same meaning as "however" can be arrived at by using "but", or — if more emphasis seems necessary in the particular case — "but nevertheless" or "but nonetheless":

    An order is not a regulation for the purposes of the Statutory Instruments Act, but it must be published in the Canada Gazette.

    An order is not a regulation for the purposes of the Statutory Instruments Act, but nevertheless it must be published in the Canada Gazette.

Punctuation

"But" and "however" have similar meanings, which have been described as "adversative".[1] However, they have different grammatical properties. "But" is a conjunction, and so can link clauses (as well as numerous other syntactic structures — see the note on But), usually with a comma between the clauses. "However" is not a conjunction but a connective adverb.[2] As "however" is not a conjunction, the clause that precedes the "however" must end either with a semi-colon or with a period (in which case, of course, the "however" clause is a separate sentence). The two clauses must not be separated by only a comma, as many readers find the result an unacceptable "comma splice".

The following examples illustrate two of the different grammatical properties of the conjunction "but" and the adverb "however".

First, a conjunction may appear only between the clauses being conjoined; the adverb "however" may appear in a number of different positions, even at the very end of the clause:

  • (a) An order is not a regulation, but it must be published in the Canada Gazette.

  • (b) An order is not a regulation; however, it must be published in the Canada Gazette.

  • (c) An order is not a regulation; it must, however, be published in the Canada Gazette.

  • (d) An order is not a regulation; it must be published in the Canada Gazette, however.

Although the adverb "however" may appear in a number of positions, it is recommended that legislative counsel use it in the initial position within a clause (as in sentence (b) above), in order to signal the override to the reader as soon as possible.

The second different grammatical property discussed here is that a conjunction may conjoin members of almost any syntactic category; the adverb "however" may be used only with clauses. This is clearly illustrated in the following sentences, in which "however" may be used instead of "but" in the first sentence (with different punctuation) but not in the last two sentences:

  • (a) An order is not a regulation; however, it must be published in the Canada Gazette.

  • (b) An order is not a regulation, but it must be published in the Canada Gazette.

  • (c) An order is not a regulation, but must be published in the Canada Gazette.

  • (d) An order must be published not in the Canada Gazette, but in a local newspaper.

Footnotes

  • [1] R. Huddleston & G.K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge: 2002), p. 1311.

  • [2] ibid.

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