Tag Archives: long sentences

Long sentences – how to write them well

By Mary Morel

Joseph M. Williams (Style: Toward Clarity and Grace) says: ‘Every competent writer has to know how to write a concise sentence and how to prune a long one to readable length. But a competent writer must also know how to manage a long sentence gracefully, how to make it as clear and as vigorous as a series of short ones.’

He gives several examples, including the following:

‘Humans have been defined by some as the only animal that can laugh at grief, laugh at the pain and tragedy that define their fate.’

In this sentence, a key word is used close to the end of a clause, then repeated in the next clause. (This is called a resumptive modifier)

‘In the last five years, European population growth has dropped to almost zero, a demographic event that in years to come will have profound social implications.’

In this sentence, the phrase in bold sums up the previous statement. (summative modifier)

‘Leonardo Da Vinci was a man of powerful intellect, driven by an insatiable curiosity and haunted by a vision of artistic expression.’

In this sentence, the words in bold come after the verb, but comment on the subject. (They are called free modifiers because they are separate from the main clause.)

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How many words are too many in a sentence?

In a recent e-newsletter, Ann Wylie (www.wyliecomm.com) said that according to research by the American Press Institute, the longer sentences are, the less readers understand. I haven’t managed to find the original source of this research, but it was apparently based on studies of 410 newspapers, and the researchers correlated the average number of wordsContinue Reading


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