The Difference: On the other hand vs. However


(Background: As a teacher, I have sometimes noticed a slight difference between the use of on the other hand and however. After doing some thinking and research, I believe I can finally explain it.)

The conjunctive adverbs however and on the other hand are used to show contrast (difference), but their meanings are not exactly the same. Let’s start with the easiest word, however.

Using ‘However’


However can be used between ideas that contrast. In this sense, however is similar to the conjunction but (except that however is an adverb, so it cannot join two clauses).

I want to buy a new laptop. However, I don’t have enough money. (positive idea contrasting with a negative one)

I don’t like sushi. However, you love it. (negative idea contrasting with a positive one)

 

Using ‘On the Other Hand’


This phrase is used to present two different views or options about an issue. Both views may be valid. In other words, one idea should not refute or cancel the other one out. Here’s an example:

Correct: We thought it would be a nice day. However, it rained.

Incorrect: We thought it would be a nice day. On the other hand, it rained.

You should not use On the other hand here because the idea in the second sentence (“it rained”) shows that the first idea (“it would be a nice day”) was false. This means the first idea is canceled (refuted) by the second idea. Therefore, the sentences do not present two valid views or options.

Correct: I wrote down my answer. However, I later realized that my answer was incorrect.

Incorrect: I wrote down my answer. On the other hand, I later realized that my answer was incorrect.

Again, the second sentence (“I realized my answer was incorrect”) shows that the first idea was false, and therefore, not a valid option anymore.

Image of two hands

Our hands present actual options.

When something is on one hand or the other hand, that means it is a valid option, e.g: “On the one hand, we could take the car, but on the other hand, we could walk.” When you clearly show that one option is not possible, then you would take it off that hand. It makes no sense to consider two options on your hands when one is not possible.

Summary

  • Both however and on the other hand are used to show contrast between ideas.
  • If one statement refutes the other, you should not use on the other hand.

I admit that the difference between these two phrases is small and only seen in this case. If you have questions, please leave a comment below.

Quiz: However vs. On the other hand

1. I woke up in a panic because I thought it was Monday morning. , it was still the weekend.

Answer & Explanation

However — you cannot use on the other hand here because the first thought (that it was Monday) is shown to be invalid.

2. Peter wants to become a doctor. , he’s not sure that he’s smart enough.

Answer & Explanation

However / On the other hand (both are possible) — the idea that he wants to be a doctor is not canceled out by his uncertainty.

3. We couldn’t find our dog anywhere so we were starting to get worried. , our neighbour found him in his yard, thankfully.

Answer & Explanation

However — you cannot use on the other hand here because the first thought (that our dog was lost) is shown not to be true because your neighbour found him.

— Written by Matthew Barton of Englishcurrent.com (copyright)

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One comment on “The Difference: On the other hand vs. However

  1. Anonymous (Posted on 11-18-2020 at 13:53) Reply

    Thank you!!

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