Variety of sentence length and patterns can work wonders. It is true that readers of the twenty-first century prefer terse sentences. Many writers, too, prefer short and simple sentences because writing a really long sentence in a grammatically correct way is not always easy.
Unfortunately, this over emphasis on simple sentences makes the text dull and uninteresting. Of course, by writing short sentences you can reduce the number of grammatical mistakes. But if your prose is made up entirely of short sentences, it will drive the reader crazy after a short while.
Before you start writing long sentences, here are a few things to remember.
Avoid sentence fragments at any cost
A complete sentence must make sense by itself. A fragment is a sentence that is not complete. In most cases a fragment is a phrase or clause that should be a part of the sentence that comes before it.
Study the paragraph given below. It contains several sentence fragments.
We were lucky to see the kangaroo. Hiking through the scrub. It was sitting quietly. With only its ears moving. Peter signaled me to keep still. While he focused his camera. Suddenly the animal hopped away. An example of the shy nature of the kangaroo.
This paragraph could be rewritten as:
Hiking through the scrub we were lucky to see the kangaroo. It was sitting quietly with only its ears moving. Peter signaled me to keep still while he focused his camera. Suddenly the animal hopped away – an example of the shy nature of the kangaroo.
The run-on sentence is a common fault. It is really two separate sentences that have been joined with a comma instead of a colon, a full stop or a conjunction.
The following sentence is an example of a run-on sentence.
The camel is an ungainly animal, it has a huge hump on its back.
This could be written as:
The camel is an ungainly animal; it has a huge hump on its back.
The camel is an ungainly animal. It has a huge hump on its back.
The camel is an ungainly animal which has a huge hump on its back.
The camel is an ungainly animal in that it has a huge hump on its back.
Reference: Parts of the text taken from ‘Perfect Your Sentences’ published by Orient Longman
Things to consider when writing long sentences
Here are some hints about using long sentences to your advantage.
When you write long sentences, make a conscious effort to reduce the distance between the subject and the verb. Avoid putting too many unnecessary words between them. In other words, make the connection between the subject and the verb quick. After you have connected the subject part and the predicate part, let the predicate develop. Be careful to develop the complex structures in parallel form.
Variety in Modifier Placement
Modifiers can be of several different kinds. For example, subordinate clauses, infinitive phrases, adverbs, participial phrases can all be used to modify the principal clause. You can vary and improve your sentences by beginning them with a modifier. Note that in most cases, you will need a comma to separate the modifier from the principal clause.
Study the following examples.
- Subordinate clause: Although she was ill, she went to work.
- Participial phrase: Driven by rain, we took shelter under a tree.
- Participial phrase: Deceived by his friends, he committed suicide.
- Adverb: Tomorrow, the classes will start.
- Adverb: Outside, the strong wind howled.
- Infinitive phrase: To please her parents, Ann decided to study medicine.
Note on the placement of phrases and clauses
Phrases or clauses should be placed in such a way that they relate clearly to the words they modify.
Study the following sentences.
- She took the bread back to the shop that was too hard to eat.
- I bought a clock from a dealer with crooked hands.
- I read that there was an explosion near the station in the paper.
- Dad announced that he was starting a business after dinner.
In the sentences given above, the clauses do not relate clearly to the words they modify. The problem with misplaced clauses and phrases is that they make it difficult to understand the meaning of a sentence.
The example sentences given above could be rewritten as:
- She took the bread that was too hard to eat back to the shop. (Here the clause ‘that was too hard to eat’ goes immediately after the noun (bread) it modifies.)
- I bought a clock with crooked hands from a dealer. (The clock, and not the dealer, has crooked hands.)
- I read in the paper that there was an explosion near the station.
- Dad announced, after dinner, that he was starting a business. OR After dinner, Dad announced that he was starting a business.
Additional Hints on Variety
Try an occasional question, exclamation or command at the beginning of a paragraph. A question will immediately arouse the reader’s curiosity. A command, too, won’t go unnoticed. By starting a paragraph with these sentence types, you can revive the reader’s interest in your writing.
Try beginning an occasional sentence with an adverb.
- In the garden, the children were playing.
Try beginning a sentence with a phrase.
- Without a torch, we would not be able to explore the cave.
Try beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, nor, for, yet, or, so)
Your grammar teacher has probably told you that you cannot begin a sentence with and or but, but the truth is that sentences beginning with a coordinating conjunction are acceptable in most cases. They almost always call attention to themselves and add variety and sophistication to your writing. So use them, but not so often that the effect goes out of control