Long sentences will make me seek intoxicating substances, if long paragraphs don't do it first. Of course there are many wonderful long sentences written by successful writers. These famous sentences enthral us and leave us holding our breath while we wait, suffocatingly wait, for a period.
But, dear students, you do not want me to suffocate. You want me to dance joyfully through your writing.
You do not want me to get to the end of a sentence and say, "Huh? What was that about?" and have to wander back several pages to find the beginning of the sentence.
Here's a couple of long sentences that I lifted out of student essays. My student wrote about seeing her boyfriend with another woman and the conversation that followed:
"He answered (sounding very sincere) that she was his last girlfriend and that she came to him because she was feeling very bad because they were not together anymore and that she begged him to go for lunch at least."
This sentence is only 40 words, but here's the problem: too many clauses.
A clause is a subject-verb pairing. How many clauses in the above sentence?
- He answered (sounding very sincere)
- that she was his last girlfriend and
- that she came to him because
- she was feeling very bad because
- they were not together anymore and that
- she begged him to go for lunch at least.
So count your words and count your clauses. Two is okay. Stop at three.
Here's a 49-word sentence. My student was writing about his difficulty listening to his mother:
"It might be a cultural thing that parents from my country of origin usually behave more like dictators to their kids, and I seriously think that my relationship with mother would be way better if I could listen less defensively and if she could be less like a dictator."
What would make this more readable?
Here's some steps to more readable sentences:
- Count your words. If you want to have over 25 words in a sentence, you better have a very good reason.
- Vary sentence length. Lots of long sentences will tire your readers.
- Read your work over aloud. If you start to stumble, maybe your sentences are too long.
It might be a cultural thing that parents from my country of origin usually behave like dictators. My relationship with my mother would be better if I could listen less defensively and if she could be less like a dictator.