We learn in grammar school about run-on sentences and how to avoid them. In general, the thought about long sentences is that they make the text harder to read.
A long sentence is difficult to read as the writer keeps the reader waiting for the main idea until the middle or end of the sentence so that they must remember how the long sentence began. The words run on, and commas, semicolons, and conjunctions subdivide the core subsets.
A standard sentence is 14 words or fewer is easy to understand, andreaders retain 90% of the content.Long, complex sentences 20 words and above increase reading difficulty. A sentence with more than 40 words is exceptionally long and hard to comprehend.
Even so, there are plenty of examples in literature of rebels breaking the rule concerning how long a sentence should be. Some authors are skilled enough that the long sentences they’ve written work and are easy to follow.
Great long opening sentences in literature
Some of the most incredible opening lines are a few words; outbursts, pleas, or facts. For example,” Call me Ishmael” from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851). Still, there is a beauty in long opening sentences that span with a series of dashes, commas, colons, and semicolons that will hold your breath.
Here are some of the three best ones.
- Laurence Sterne,The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman(1759)
“I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider’d how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me.”
- Charles Dickens’s famousA tale of two Citiesopened (1859)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883)
“Squire Trelawney, Dr Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17-, and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn, and the brown old seaman, with the sabre cut, first took up his lodging under our roof.”
Away from the grand long opening, take a look for yourself at some of the longest sentences in literature and why they work.
Utilitarianismby John Stuart Mill
At 161-words, philosopher John Stuart Mill discusses the feelings of power, excitement, and pride in one long run-on. Mill “tricks” the reader by creating a drawn-out explanation separated by commas, colons, and semicolons. The sentence affects your perceived sensible logic, but you later understand the idea by re-reading the sentence.
“We may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness; we may attribute it to pride, a name which is given indiscriminately to some of the most and to some of the least estimable feelings of which mankind are capable; we may refer it to the love of liberty and personal independence, as appeal to which was with the Stoics one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it; to the love of power or to the love of excitement, both of which do really enter into and contribute to it; but its most appropriate appellation is a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong that nothing which conflicts with it could be otherwise than momentarily an object of desire to them.”
Rabbit, Runby John Updike
To write about sex in the 1960s was quite scandalous, especially when a woman got pregnant before getting married. InRabbit, Run,the 163-word sentence gives insight into the narrator’s anxious feelings when he finds out that his best girl missed her period.
“But then they were married (she felt awful about being pregnant before but Harry had been talking about marriage for a while and anyway laughed when she told him in early February about missing her period and said Great she was terribly frightened and he said Great and lifted her put his arms around under her bottom and lifted her like you would a child he could be so wonderful when you didn’t expect it in a way it seemed important that you didn’t expect it there was so much nice in him she couldn’t explain to anybody she had been so frightened about being pregnant and he made her be proud) they were married after her missing her second period in March and she was still little clumsy dark-complected Janice Springer and her husband was a conceited lunk who wasn’t good for anything in the world Daddy said and the feeling of being alone would melt a little with a little drink.”
A Tale of Two Citiesby Charles Dickens
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The infamous opening line to Charles DickensA Tale of Two Citiesis quite long. While not as long as some of these others, the first 181 words of the book are intriguing and hold your attention.
On Being Illby Virginia Woolf
The essayOn Being Illby Virginia Woolf takes you on a 183-word ride about the spiritual change illness can have on us. The weight of abstractions doesn’t usually work in long sentences. But in Woolf’s case, it sets a clear path to the most critical phrase at the very end. It is a sentence that literature should embrace, not fear.
“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 light, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us in the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the 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 and infinitely more, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”
Wretchedby Victor Hugo
InWretched, the description of Louis Philippe as a ruler is completed in one 823-word sentence. The length of the sentence demands that you be patient. As drawn out as it may seem, you eventually get to the end and understand how the length of the sentence plays a role in the plot.
“The son of a father to whom history will accord certain attenuating circumstances, but also as worthy of esteem as that father had been of blame; possessing all private virtues and many public virtues; careful of his health, of his fortune, of his person, of his affairs, knowing the value of a minute and not always the value of a year; sober, serene, peaceable, patient; a good man….”
Absalom, Absalom!By William Faulkner
The quality of a lengthy sentence is how William Faulker got away with his 1,288-word prose. The sentence shows the reader the inner workings of the characters and excites curiosity. Despite there not being any periods to pause and absorb what you just read, the length keeps the characters continually moving and works great alongside the plot.
“Just exactly like Father if Father had known as much about it the night before I went out there as he did the day after I came back thinking Mad impotent old man who realized at last that there must be some limit even to the capabilities of a demon for doing harm, who must have seen his situation as that of the show girl, the pony, who realizes that the principal tune she prances to comes not from horn and fiddle and drum but from a clock and calendar, must have seen himself as the old wornout cannon which realizes that it can deliver just one more fierce shot and crumble to dust in its own furious blast and recoil, who looked about upon the scene which was still within his scope and compass and saw son gone, vanished, more insuperable to him now than if the son were dead since now (if the son still lived) his name would be different ……”
Ulyssesby James Joyce
Often cited for being the longest sentence ever written is one by author James Joyce. In his novelUlysses,the character Molly Bloom has a monologue that goes on for 36 pages and has a total of 3,687 words. The only reason that a sentence this long works is because it is a monologue. Molly is speaking her thoughts out loud, and when combined with other punctuation, it is easy to follow along.
The Assignmentby Friedrich Dürrenmatt
The Assignmentis a novella published in 1986 by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The novella is published in 24 parts as 24 sentences. The inspiration to break the grammar rules came from listening to Glenn Gould performing Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier I, which has 24 movements.
Solar Bonesby Mike McCormack
In more recent literature, Irish fiction author Mike McCormack published a novel in 2016 that is one sentence long. The novel follows Marcus Conway, a deceased middle-aged man who returns on All Souls Day to reminisce about the past. One of the novel’s main themes is chaos, and having text with no period adds to the idea perfectly.
The Last Voyage of the Ghost Shipby Gabrielgarcia marquez
The 1999 book tells of an internal monologue of a boy who becomes an assertive young man. His imagination is so strong that he believes he saw a ship. His mother and villagers do not believe him, and he gets a beating for lying he saw a ship.
In the 2156 words sentence, he begins angrily, “Now they’re going to see who I am, he said to himself in his strong new man’s voice..” The yearning to prove he saw the ship severally makes his imagination appear real.
The Sentenceby Donald Barthelme
Donald explains what a long sentence is in a 2569 words sentence. A sentence flows steadily from the top to the “bottom of the page.” It is a deviation from the sentences teachers teach.
He gives analogies of what he feels about the sentence. It is like that horrible feeling when you listen to the FM playing a rock song, and someone interrupts you. He concludes his definition with, “the sentence itself is a man-made object, not the one we wanted of course, but still a construction of man, a structure to be treasured for its weakness, as opposed to the strength of stones.”
The Autumn of the Patriarchby Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Autumn of the Patriarch is a great story about a cruel ruler in the Caribbean, showing how leaders can abuse power.
It’s a symphony of humanity’s most outstanding virtues and worst vices. Gabriel García Márquez paints a vivid picture of a dying dictator trapped in the prison of his own rule and includes a 120-word long sentence.
“She said I’m tired of begging God to overthrow my son, because all this business of living in the presidential palace is like having the lights on all the time, sir, and she had said it with the same naturalness with which on one national holiday she had made her way through the guard of honor with a basket of empty bottles and reached the presidential limousine that was leading the parade of celebration in an uproar of ovations and martial music and storms of flowers and she shoved the basket through the window and shouted to her son that since you’ll be passing right by take advantage and return these bottles to the store on the corner, poor mother.”
If you think these sentences were long, the longest sentence to date is by author Jonathan Coe in his bookThe Rotters’ Club. Coe holds the record at 13,955 words! The inspiration came to Coe from a Czech novel that was written in one long sentence.
Did the long opening impress you or take your breath away?
What do you think about run-on sentences? Do they work in literature or should they be banned? Let us know in the comments!
Hopefully, you get to read the entire books from where we drew these excerpts, and you could if you learned how to speed read with Iris ReadingSpeed Reading Foundation Class.
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The Guinness Book of Records lists the longest proper sentence as one from William Faulkner's novel 'Absalom, Absalom!' (1,287 words). Some ancient languages, such as Sanskrit and Greek, did not have any punctuation.Why is long sentences used in Literature? ›
Lengthier sentences are used to investigate an idea more thoroughly, give vivid description, and develop tension.What sentence has 13955 words? ›
The longest sentence award goes to: Jonathan Coe's The Rotter's Club, 13,955 word sentence.What are long sentences called in Literature? ›
Some writers believe longs sentences are simply made by coupling clauses with the word and. This is called polysyndeton, and yes, it is one of twelve literary devices you can use to take charge of your boring writing.Is a 20 word sentence too long? ›
Appropriate Sentence Length
Try to keep the average sentence length of your document around 20–25 words. This is a good rule of thumb to convey your meaning in a balanced way and avoiding a marathon or choppy sentences. The number varies as per the field, audience, or the nature of writing.
“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” According to William Rappaport, a linguistics professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo (naturally), that — the word “Buffalo,” eight times in a row — is a legitimate, grammatically valid sentence.Why are long sentences effective? ›
Longer sentences add rhythm to your writing. By using both short and long sentences, you add interest and drama to your writing that keeps your readers' attention.How do long sentences effect the reader? ›
Studies from the American Press Institute have shown that when the average sentence length is 14 words, readers understand more than 90% of what they are reading. At 43 words, comprehension drops to less than 10%. Long, complicated sentences force users to slow down and work harder to understand what they are reading.How do long sentences create tension? ›
Often this means that long sentences slow down the pace, and this can be a way to create a slow build-up of tension: I press myself deeper and deeper into the hedge, until twigs dig into my back and thorns tear at my bare legs, hoping and praying that the leaves will shield me as I wait for them to pass.What is the world's largest English sentence? ›
Molly Bloom's soliloquy in the James Joyce novel Ulysses (1922) contains a sentence of 3,687 words. William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (1936) contains a sentence composed of 1,288 words (in the 1951 Random House version). Jonathan Coe's 2001 novel The Rotters' Club has a sentence with 13,955 words.
Most sentences should contain no more than 30 or 40 words. “Medium-sized” means minuscule by Proust's standards. Most sentences should contain no more than 30 or 40 words. Your readers just don't have a very long attention span, and their feet tire easily.Is 42 words too long for a sentence? ›
Sentences are usually between 15–20 words. Thirty words is a long sentence and should be considered the maximum.What is the 13 955 word sentence? ›
The longest sentence in English has nearly 14,000 words. A sentence consisting of 13,955 words in English novelist Jonathan Coe's book 'The Rotters' Club' is believed to be the longest English sentence.What is the longest sentence in English that has 26 letters? ›
What is the sentence in which all 26 letters come? The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. This is undoubtedly the best known pangram. It contains all 26 letters of the alphabet (as it must do in order to be a pangram) and is 35 letters long.What author is famous for long sentences? ›
Ulysses by James Joyce
Often cited for being the longest sentence ever written is one by author James Joyce. In his novel Ulysses, the character Molly Bloom has a monologue that goes on for 36 pages and has a total of 3,687 words. The only reason that a sentence this long works is because it is a monologue.
Jail time for different types of crimes can vary from 48 hours to more than 10 years. Repeat offenders and those committing multiple violent crimes can serve a life sentence. So what determines the length of imprisonment in the prison system? The type of crime is the main factor.Is 1000 words too long for a paragraph? ›
1,000 words is about 5-10 paragraphs for essays or 10-20 for easier reading (to allow skimming). A paragraph length typically has 100-200 words and 5-6 sentences.Is a fifty word sentence too long? ›
There is no such thing as an “ideal” sentence length. The very best writing always shows a variety of sentences, ranging from very short (one word!) to rather long (as many as 50 words or even more).What is the shortest one word sentence? ›
'I am' is the shortest sentence in English Language.What sentence has only one word in it? ›
A sentence word (also called a one-word sentence) is a single word that forms a full sentence. Henry Sweet described sentence words as 'an area under one's control' and gave words such as "Come!", "John!", "Alas!", "Yes." and "No." as examples of sentence words.
The longest word in any of the major English language dictionaries is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (45 letters), a word that refers to a lung disease contracted from the inhalation of very fine silica particles, specifically from a volcano; medically, it is the same as silicosis.
Changing up the number of words in a sentence affects the way a piece is read. It creates cadence and rhythm. Sentence fluency is all about how the writing sounds. Determining the number of words for each sentence provides the undercurrent for the tone and message.How long of a sentence is too long? ›
When is a sentence too long? It is difficult to come up with a magic number or formula for determining when a sentence is too long. A 12-word sentence that minces words can be too long, while a crystal clear, beautifully-composed 22-word sentence is sometimes just perfect. In general, though, never go beyond 30 words.Why do writers use complex sentences? ›
The complex sentence is an effective way to show that one idea takes precedence over another. The idea in the complete sentence base is more important than the idea in the dependent phrase.What effect does sentence length have on writing? ›
Another way to create sentence variety is to vary your sentence length. Sentence length can affect the rhythm, tone, and mood of your writing. Generally, shorter sentences are more concise, direct, and emphatic, while longer sentences are more descriptive, elaborate, and nuanced.How do longer sentences affect the pacing of a narrative? ›
Detailed descriptions using longer sentences and paragraphs slow down the pace. Some entire books use this structure, creating serenity and depth of experience through pacing. Most stories use both.Are long sentences better? ›
A common writing advice is to keep your sentences short and simple. The argument goes that writing is better when it is concise, because you're more efficiently communicating your ideas. Long sentences take more energy for the reader to process, and you shouldn't require that of the reader if it's not necessary.How does sentence length create suspense? ›
Their minds try to gather numerous details about the environment or situation all at once in an effort to ensure their own safety. This sequence of rapid thoughts highlights the immediate danger and time constraints of the situation, creating a sense of tension or urgency.
Conflict and tension in literature help build drama and keep readers engaged through the end of the book. Learning the distinctions between conflict and tension will help elevate your writing and make your storylines more engaging.What creates tension in writing? ›
One of the best ways to create and sustain tension as your story progresses is to keep your reader asking questions and engaged at all times. It's essential to keep your reader curious, so have them asking enough questions in those quiet moments to keep them turning the pages.
1. 'Pad kid poured curd pulled cod. ' A team of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology say that this is the most difficult tongue twister in the world.What is the longest sentence by human? ›
|Name||Sentence start||Sentence term|
|Charles Cullen||2006||19 life sentences without parole for 497 years|
|David Randitsheni||2009||16 life sentences plus 220 years|
|Jeffrey Dahmer||1992||16 life sentences without parole|
|Earl Bradley||2011||14 life sentences without parole plus 165 years|
The world's longest non-life sentence, according to the "Guinness Book of Records", was imposed on Thai pyramid scheme fraudster Chamoy Thipyaso, who was jailed for 141,078 years in 1989.How long does it take the average person to read a sentence? ›
Many resources indicate that the average reading speed of most adults is around 200 to 250 words per minute, which translates to two minutes per page.Are long sentences grammatically incorrect? ›
So, while there is nothing grammatically incorrect about a long sentence, it's usually a good idea to use shorter sentences to get your points across to a contemporary audience.Can you start a sentence with but? ›
There's no rule against beginning a sentence with but. Sure, it's a wise admonition from middle-school English teachers that novice writers avoid beginning a series of sentences with but. In July we went to Six Flags. But it rained that day.Is 90000 words too long? ›
In general, the Safe Zone for adult fiction is 70,000-100,000, and the Safe Zone for adult nonfiction is 60,000-90,000 words. Less than that and your book is probably too short. More than that and your book is probably too long.Is 500 words too long for a paragraph? ›
Yes. A 500-word essay will likely include around 4-6 paragraphs. ☎️ Is a 500 word paragraph too long? In most cases, a 500-word paragraph is too long, but paragraph size differs based on essay type and required length.How long should 300 words take? ›
Writing 300 words will take about 7.5 minutes for the average writer typing on a keyboard and 15 minutes for handwriting. However, if the content needs to include in-depth research, links, citations, or graphics such as for a blog article or high school essay, the length can grow to 1 hours.What is the longest sentence in US history? ›
In 1981, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA, Dudley Wayne Kyzer received the longest single sentence of 10,000 years for murdering his wife. He then received a further two life sentences for murdering his mother-in-law and a college student.
Victor Hugo wrote a sentence that was 823 words long
He took this to a whole different level in his seminal novel, 'Les Misérables'. He wrote a sentence that was 823 words long- and is considered as the longest sentence ever printed in fiction! However, it takes up only 12% of the entire 655,4878-word novel.
Nim's longest "sentence" was the 16-word-long "Give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you."What is the 27th letter in the alphabet? ›
|Development||𐌄𐌕 E T et &|
|Time period||c. 100 CE to present|
You're ready for honorificabilitudinitatibus
These words may not come in handy anytime soon unless you're planning to visit Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch or diagnose someone with a pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.
A sentence using all the letters in the alphabet is called a pangram (from the Greek for "every letter"). "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" is the most famous pangram, but there are many others. My favorite may be "the five boxing wizards jump quickly," which is four letters shorter.
The Guinness Book of Records lists the longest proper sentence as one from William Faulkner's novel 'Absalom, Absalom!' (1,287 words). Some ancient languages, such as Sanskrit and Greek, did not have any punctuation. So all their sentences were long!Why did Hemingway use long sentences? ›
Hemingway often mixes longer and shorter sentences for a euphonious effect. In The Old Man and the Sea (1952), for instance, he tells us the thoughts of the old fisherman: “Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him.Who is the most quoted writer of all time? ›
OSCAR Wilde has been named as the “most quotable figure” in the history of the English language. The playwright takes top place on the list of the most memorable lines ever written or spoken in the latest edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations.Which is the longest sentence in the world? ›
Thailand's world record
The world's longest non-life sentence, according to the "Guinness Book of Records", was imposed on Thai pyramid scheme fraudster Chamoy Thipyaso, who was jailed for 141,078 years in 1989.
Sentences are usually between 15–20 words. Thirty words is a long sentence and should be considered the maximum. Short sentences can quickly and reliably relay information. However, varying sentence length is important because sentences of the same length can be monotonous and bore your reader.
Studies from the American Press Institute have shown that when the average sentence length is 14 words, readers understand more than 90% of what they are reading. At 43 words, comprehension drops to less than 10%. Long, complicated sentences force users to slow down and work harder to understand what they are reading.How many pages is the longest sentence? ›
He once said, “It was Faulkner at his most involuted and incantatory who most enchanted me.” The current record holder for the longest english sentence is Jonathan Coe for his staggering 33-page, 13,955-word sentence in The Rotter's Club, 2001.How long is 1 life sentence? ›
A one-life sentence imposes an obligation on a defendant to serve 15 to 25 years in prison until the eligibility of parole. The sentence depends on the gravity of the crime and on the jurisdiction in which the defendant is tried. Parole is usually granted to individuals who have displayed good behavior.What is the longest sentences given in USA? ›
In 1981, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA, Dudley Wayne Kyzer received the longest single sentence of 10,000 years for murdering his wife. He then received a further two life sentences for murdering his mother-in-law and a college student.Why are there sentences over 100 years? ›
Sentencing laws vary across the world, but in the United States, the reason people get ordered to serve exceptional amounts of prison time is to acknowledge multiple crimes committed by the same person. “Each count represents a victim,” says Rob McCallum, Public Information Officer for the Colorado Judicial Branch.What is considered a too long sentence? ›
When is a sentence too long? It is difficult to come up with a magic number or formula for determining when a sentence is too long. A 12-word sentence that minces words can be too long, while a crystal clear, beautifully-composed 22-word sentence is sometimes just perfect. In general, though, never go beyond 30 words.What is the shortest sentence in the English language? ›
To make a complete sentence in English you need a subject and a predicate. The sentence 'I am' has both- the subject- I and Predicate- am. It also expresses a complete thought. So 'I am' is the shortest sentence.What is the longest sentence you can form with two words? ›
The longest sentence you can form with two words is: I do. -H. L. Mencken | Sentences, Words, Marriage quotes.Is it wrong to write long sentences? ›
Using complex sentences in your writing is fine, but too many very long sentences can be exhausting for your reader. If you have too many very long sentences in your writing, your reader will struggle to remember what you're trying to say and to engage with your ideas.What is the longest piece of writing ever? ›
The longest novel in English, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, written by Henry Williamson and published in 15 volumes between 1951 and 1969, is 2.4 million words.
At 21,450 Pages, the Longest Book in the World Is Impossible to Read. Artist Ilan Manouach bound together 21,450 pages of the popular Japanese comic “One Piece” to create a sculpture that comments on the commodification of comic books.