Long Sentences Like A Good Wine Endure through Time

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When did long sentences go out of style? Have we have been taught that in order to grab the attention of the reader we must do it in as few sentences as possible, because we know that the reader’s attention span is very miniscule? The reader’s attention instead has been captured by the electronic age and it is increasingly harder to get people to read. However, in our rush to capture the reader’s attention have our sentences become less vibrant and less meaningful?

Great writers of literature endured the test of time. Their sentences were vibrant and full of meaning and their sentences tantalized our senses like an excellent wine with dinner.
Have we become unable to appreciate vibrant verbs, the provocative adjectives, the descriptive adverbs that make a sentence more robust and vibrant? Have our words been reduced to simple sentences on a page?

The longer sentence where every single word is the best that can be found and a word or phrase could not be cut from this without sacrificing anything essential is like a puzzle where every piece fits the picture. Below is an example from the opening of Virginia Woolf’s essay, “On Being Ill.”

“Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the water of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his “Rinse the Mouth —- rinse the mouth” with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us – when we think of this, as we are frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”

This sentence has 181 words and like a puzzle each word fits tightly. This sentence is not something to be feared because of the number of words it is something to be embraced for the flow of words sounds like music. It is pleasurable to read, graceful, witty and intelligent. I don’t think Virginia Woolf would take kindly to being told that short sentences that have lost their vigor and meaning are in style today.


Do you strive to become a better writer by writing better sentences? Do you strive to become a better reader by reading the classics? Do you strive to become a better student by writing papers that have not been plagiarized or copied from the internet, but are written in your own words?

My challenge to all writers, readers and students is to read a classic novel. Look up the words that you come across when you don’t know the definition. Write down the definitions, put the words into sentences and try to use a new word a day in your conversation.

Happy Reading!

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6 thoughts on “Long Sentences Like A Good Wine Endure through Time”

  1. Yet, when I read a sentence that I have lovingly constructed, correctly punctuated, that is full of rythm and meaning, my writer’s group pounces. They say they love the piece, that I have put them in the scene. They feel it; they are there. But–and there are several of these–this sentence is “too long to retain everything in it. I get lost.” How is one sentence different than two or three in that respect?

    Not all my sentences are like that. Some are short, most medium length. But sometimes, there’s just no other way to express something. So must I dumb down my writing before I have a chance of being published and read?

  2. As a writer who posts on a fanfiction and on an original works site, I have been both praised and ridiculed for my sentences. Several reviewers have compared me to Jane Austen; an awesome thrill for me. Just as many, however, condemn the fact that my sentences are too long simply because they can not all fit on one line. Just as it would appear that too many readers believe that any long sentence is not grammatically correct if there is not a comma lurking somewhere within it to break it up. I adore writers who give me more than the bare-bones version of a story and I like to think that most of my readers come to me for the same thing.

    While on the various writers’ forums that I go to I am saddened to see that one of the first pieces of advice given to writers is to shorten their craft down as much as they can. While I understand the importance of not adding in UNNECESSARY details I do not think that those that could have a significant meaning later in the story should be cut early on simply because its importence is not readily known to the reader. If a reader wants to read a story with short, “Dick and Jane plays with Spot”, sentences then they will know in the first chapter that my stories are not for them. Don’t complain about the long sentences in chapter nine.

  3. Chiliad by Simon Otius, at unhappened [dot] com, is almost wholly written in long and notable sentences. Here is the opening sentence:

    “To avoid giving the impression, – most particularly here at the very gatehouse of this, for the most part, linear narrating of what is believed a remarkable enough history, one that may, — making its slow but inexorable way to credit, — challenge the very tenets of traditional biography, – that words, – generally believed good-fellows, merry men nearly all, – are already right eager, – by building a labyrinth of intricable mystery, – to confound the unwary reader at the very onset : it will prove very useful if a few, simple, but important facts, concerning the family Troke, and their seat, are first supplied.”

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