1. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    sentence lenght

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Tesoro, Apr 7, 2012.

    Would a sentence of 89 words be considered too long? :D I have just spotted one in my ms and it reads well, I think. it's not one of those sentences where you almost lose your breath because there are no place to pause...
    And still, is it too long?
     
  2. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    That depends on how well you use punctuation, I think. If your punctuation is good - your use of commas especially - even a very long sentence can remain readable and intelligible.

    If in doubt though, it may be better to break the sentence into 2 - 3 shorter sentences.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If it feels too long, it probably is. There is a correlation between sentence length and pace, so keep that in mind as well. Sometimes a slowed-down pace is valuable.

    It depends on the sentence, and the context,
     
  4. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I get it. Thank you for taking the time to answer. It doesn't feel too long actually. It was just when i realized how long it really was that I started wondering. I think I'll keep it the way it is.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you can always post it here, if you want valid opinions that aren't just a general 'rule'... it's impossible to answer your question about a specific sentence when we haven't read it...
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There isn't really such a thing as a sentence that's too long. It always depends on how it's written and the style the writer is aiming for. I remember reading an analysis of Hemingway's prose, and even though he was famous for his simple and direct declarative sentences, it actually turns out that he used long sentences quite often. The analysis quoted an example of a 115-word sentence by Hemingway that included (gasp!) a semicolon!

    William Faulkner would sometimes write sentences that were a whole page long. While it may be true that not many people want to emulate Faulkner's style, he did win the Nobel Prize.

    My recommendation is always to read your work aloud. If it sounds good, it is good. If you can't speak your sentence so that it sounds good, change it.
     
  7. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    good advice everyone. I'll try and read it aloud and see if it stumbles.
     
  8. RowenaFW
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    RowenaFW Member

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    Or have you seen Dickens? Sentences over a page all about muffins - and it WORKS.

    No, I'd agree - sentences aren't too long by word length, but for themselves.

    I'd like to read it, though, if you'd care to share!
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sentence length is a red herring. More important is whether the clauses are coordinated or subordinated, and if they're subordinated whether they're embedded or not. An 89 word sentence can be absolutely fine or can take a team of linguists to decode.
     
  10. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    I can't imagine an 89 word sentence that wouldn't feel too long. Maybe I need a better imagination but a good rule of thumb is 30 words. The more you go over that, the more people who won't understand it. If you are writing for scholars you might get away with a really long sentences but I'd be very hesitant to use a sentence that long. The average person can't read an 89 word sentence without shaking their head and having to go back and reread it (probably not great for keeping them immersed in the story world). More than likely there will be an easy place or two that you can divide a really long sentence.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    The average reader will have no difficulty whatsoever with a well-structured and well-punctuated 89-word sentence, and probably won't even notice that it was long, but even the scholars will struggle with a badly structured 30-word sentence; yes, the longer a sentence gets the more likely it is to be badly structured, but long isn't necessarily a problem for any reader -- the main issue is how many ideas the reader needs to keep in their head at any one time, which is what my earlier comment about embedded subordinate clauses was about.
     
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  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I saw what you did there ...
    ;)
     
  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    92 words. Excellent.

    I like minstrel's advice about reading it out loud. Look for natural pauses in the sentence, and place punctuation (whatever that might be) accordingly.
     
  14. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    excellent! :D you proved your point!
     
  15. Corybobory
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    Corybobory New Member

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    I think there can be a sentence with a lot less words that can feel too long - and perhaps even a sentence with more words that doesn't! As long as it's punctuated well and you dont lose yourself in the thought, it can work.

    I'd read it outloud - can you read it from start to finish in a good voice without stumbling? I find if you can shorten it or break it up, do - but if you feel it's better all together, there's no rule it can't be ;)
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    whose 'rule' is that?... i've never come across any 'rule of thumb' in re sentence length in my many decades as a writer... and, as dig says above, 30 can just as well be too many in the hands of any but an expert wordsmith...
     
  17. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Nice, very nice. :)
    Maybe I should say the average writer can't write an 89-words sentence and have it make sense.
     
  18. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    Love it. I annoy my correspondents with things like this ;) The only thing that could have been better is if you'd maybe said "indeed" instead of "yes" - it makes it sound a little more like part of the same sentence, more fluid and continuous, if you know what I mean, because "yes" makes it sound as if you're gasping for breath, or should I say grasping for words, to express the idea you're attempting to convey, or rather the point you're trying to make; but I really like it the way it is as well, so well done ;).
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I were to change that, I'd change it to "it is true that" and push the word count higher. :)
     
  20. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix Contributing Member

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    I think it's more about if your sentence can be clearly understood or not. I am not a native speaker of English and along with comitting a lot of typos, I also have problems with long sentences... Then I just write a bunch of small sentences rather than one big sentence, in English, that is.
     
  21. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Possibly true. Does anybody here aspire to being an average writer? :)

    As an example of how not to do it (which I've quoted here before), consider this:
    Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and sorrows, cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallise and transfix the moment upon which its gloom or radiance rests, James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy stores, endowed the picture of a refrigerator, as his mother spoke, with heavenly bliss.​
    That sentence keeps interrupting itself, making it a maze to navigate. But it's from Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse -- it's by a much better writer than I, known to be a scrupulous self-editor, and is in a book considered a classic. And it's far from being the most extreme example in that book. Clearly there is a market for sentences that are hard to read!
     
  22. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    Hard-to-read sentences are nothing more than fodder for the scholars who will dissect your work after your death, reading imagined deep meaning into every preposition and attempting to discern through exhaustive literary analysis what on earth you might have meant by such convoluted and parenthetically intricate grammatical sentence structure, by which discovery, although they purport to catch a glimpse into your enlightened, inspired genius, they in reality strive only to publish scholarly papers about you, in which they fill their pages with such unintelligible gibberish as this which is unintelligible for the very reason that it contains no meaning, which, by giving to rich people the illusion that these scholars fully understand the subject on which they are discoursing, will endow them with enough grants to make a person sick.
     
  23. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    132 words, and perfectly understandable! :D My sentence was kind of two lists, first she thought it would be like this......, but instead she found out it was like this....... . To me it belongs to the same sentence, and I think it's comprehensible too. Might need a change of word here and there to make it better but besides from that...
     

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