Effectively writing Long sentences in English

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Daimon
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Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Daimon » Wed Oct 10, 2012 12:41 pm UTC

On another site, Daimon wrote:Be it that I often repeat certain things everywhere I go, if I have truly felt like it was an accomplishment, until I feel everyone is sick of hearing about it (I doubt people actually are), I cannot help but continue to share the so-called "accomplishment" on other sites known by me; the fact that I previously mentioned it to be an "accomplishment" notwithstanding, I can read through it and, immediately after, call the written work a piece of crap on the basis of any and all mistakes in its: syntax, structure, the general idea being expressed, spelling, word usage, and the general Illiteracy it brings about by way of not being native in the language.


Mod note: I'm not sure what else was here originally, such as a discussion question or something, but the long sentence being discussed seemed to be that above.
Last edited by Daimon on Thu Dec 06, 2012 6:52 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Long senteces in English

Postby dudiobugtron » Wed Oct 10, 2012 7:52 pm UTC

Anywhere you use a semi-colon instead of a full-stop is a dead giveaway!

Also, this 'the' appears unnecessary:
... mistakes in its: syntax, structure, the general idea being expressed, spelling, word usage, ...

and (although it doesn't reduce the length of the sentence), you probably should have an 'and' before 'word usage'.

Note: although I do feel a sense of accomplishment from spotting those mistakes (and the one in the thread title), I certainly don't feel they are enough to warrant my calling your writing a 'piece of crap'. In fact, I quite enjoyed reading it.
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Re: Effectively writing Long senteces in English

Postby Daimon » Wed Oct 10, 2012 8:56 pm UTC

Was the semicolon remark a joke? I have to question whether or not I actually know how to use one if it was not. As for the, "and" I should have had, I did not include it because it was not the last item in my list; that item being "the general Illiteracy..."
I was actually referencing the writing of a foreign language, calling the times in which I write in said language to be crap when looked back upon. This was copy-pasted from some other site on which I had posted.

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Re: Effectively writing Long senteces in English

Postby tms » Wed Oct 10, 2012 9:35 pm UTC

I'm pretty sure you can replace "continue to share" with "continue sharing" and only gain, at least the one character.
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Re: Effectively writing Long senteces in English

Postby Daimon » Wed Oct 10, 2012 9:57 pm UTC

Could I, even though it would be in bad taste, wrte a sentence saying, "My top 100,000,000 favourite numbers are as follows: one, two, three, four, five....." and have that be a legitmate sentence?

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Re: Effectively writing Long senteces in English

Postby Dthen » Wed Oct 10, 2012 10:03 pm UTC

I prefer short sentences.
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Re: Effectively writing Long senteces in English

Postby dudiobugtron » Wed Oct 10, 2012 10:54 pm UTC

Daimon wrote:Was the semicolon remark a joke? I have to question whether or not I actually know how to use one if it was not.

Semi-colons are usually used to join two related sentences (and often conveniently allow you to omit 'implied' words that would be needed if the sentences were separated by a full stop). However, in this case the two sentences are only related in that they follow on from one another. You can replace the semi-colon there with a full stop without any loss of meaning. Since you think otherwise, however, it's likely that I have misinterpreted the meaning of the sentence/s; probably due to the fact that I don't have enough context!

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Note that the following discussion about list etiquette is not related to the main topic of how to write effective run-on sentences, and whether or not the OP's sentence is one:
As for the, "and" I should have had, I did not include it because it was not the last item in my list; that item being "the general Illiteracy..."

Yes but all of those items don't follow on from 'its'. Here are the things (I think) you want to list, individually:

mistakes in its syntax
mistakes in its structure
mistakes in the general idea being expressed
mistakes in its spelling
mistakes in its word usage
the general Illiteracy it brings about by way of not being native in the language.

Some of those things don't start with "mistakes in its". One of them doesn't even start with 'mistakes'.

To see why the way you have done it is wrong, try rearranging the order of the items in the list:

... mistakes in its: the general illiteracy it brings about by way of not being native in the language, the general idea being expressed, spelling, word usage, syntax, and structure.
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Re: Effectively writing Long senteces in English

Postby Iulus Cofield » Thu Oct 11, 2012 2:10 am UTC

Run on sentences are a long and many splendoured tradition across languages. From antiquity until at least the early 20th century, one can find, with perhaps alarming regularity, sentences stretching to fill an entire page. Longwindedness in those eras meaning, of course, sentences spanning three or more pages. I suspect the new orthodoxy of short sentences, and the heresy of adjective and adverb free sentences, originated in imitation of Hemingway's terse style, which would be hilarious because Hemingway's style was influenced by newspaper styles, which were and are terse in an attempt to maximize information and conserve space in a limited amount of page space, while the more longwinded tradition probably originated in an attempt to maximize information and conserve space in a limited number of pages.

As for your example sentence, I would put a period after "known by me" and leave the rest unchanged, except for the colon after "its", which, as dudio pointed out, is just incorrect punctuation usage. If you remove its, the sentence is dandy. You could also shorten it by removing "be it that", which would also allow "I cannot help but continue to share the so-called "accomplishment" on other sites known by me" to stand alone as a sentence.

There are also some parts that could just be said in fewer words. For example, "the fact that I previously mentioned it to be an 'accomplishment' notwithstanding", could be reduced a simple, "The accomlishment notwthstanding..." It sounds like you don't mind that kind of sentence lengthening, though.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Oct 11, 2012 2:45 pm UTC

While it might seem an accomplishment, or at least a novel and interesting change of pace, to write sentences that, when compared to what is now the norm in most areas of discourse, are several times longer, it more often has the effect, at least upon most casual readers, of simply making your prose needlessly complex, requiring one or two additional attempts by the reader before it can be comprehended accurately.

Edit: and yes, a list of your favorite numbers counts as a legitimate sentence, as does everything in the sequence,
I know.
You know I know.
I know you know I know.
.
.
.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Oct 11, 2012 3:04 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:While it might seem an accomplishment, or at least a novel and interesting change of pace, to write sentences that, when compared to what is now the norm in most areas of discourse, are several times longer, it more often has the effect, at least upon most casual readers, of simply making your prose needlessly complex, requiring one or two additional attempts by the reader before it can be comprehended accurately.


I see this point made quite often and whilst I understand it, I do not necessarily agree because, for me at least (who grew up on a diet of Tolkein and had read the Silmarilion by the time I was 12 and so heavily influenced by this verbose style of writing) it is not necessarily any harder to understand; instead it simply requires a different sort of reading to understand accurately and thus, if long sentences were the norm nowadays, most people would not find them hard to read whereas, because most text now is chopped up into tiny sentences, people do not usually develop the ability to track all the clauses and how they relate to each other.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Oct 11, 2012 3:21 pm UTC

Well sure. People wrote longer sentences in the past. Audiences were used to them. They probably didn't have much trouble understanding.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby screen317 » Fri Oct 12, 2012 5:26 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:While it might seem an accomplishment, or at least a novel and interesting change of pace, to write sentences that, when compared to what is now the norm in most areas of discourse, are several times longer, it more often has the effect, at least upon most casual readers, of simply making your prose needlessly complex, requiring one or two additional attempts by the reader before it can be comprehended accurately.


I see this point made quite often and whilst I understand it, I do not necessarily agree because, for me at least (who grew up on a diet of Tolkein and had read the Silmarilion by the time I was 12 and so heavily influenced by this verbose style of writing) it is not necessarily any harder to understand; instead it simply requires a different sort of reading to understand accurately and thus, if long sentences were the norm nowadays, most people would not find them hard to read whereas, because most text now is chopped up into tiny sentences, people do not usually develop the ability to track all the clauses and how they relate to each other.
My issue here is that how I "read" this in my head was awkward, not because of it being incorrect (it's not), but because spoken it sounds odd.

I have never heard this pause (the second comma) in speech:
I see this point made quite often and whilst I understand it, I do not necessarily agree because, for me at least . . .
Perhaps it would seem more reasonable as:

I see this point made quite often, and whilst I understand it, I do not necessarily agree because for me at least . . .



Commas after "whereas" also bother me. Why not put the comma before??

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Daimon » Fri Oct 12, 2012 10:52 pm UTC

.................
Last edited by Daimon on Thu Dec 06, 2012 6:51 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby screen317 » Sat Oct 13, 2012 12:28 am UTC

Daimon wrote:My, obviously-terrible, usage of commas dictates I must write it as:

I see this point made quite often, and, whilst I understand it, I do not necessarily agree because, for me at least, it is not necessarily any harder to understand.
If that is how you would naturally speak that sentence, then I have no issue with it. If it's not how you would naturally say it, then it's unnecessarily excessive, in my opinion.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Iulus Cofield » Sat Oct 13, 2012 1:29 am UTC

Commas don't always reflect pronunciation. In the maximal comma style, they separate any clause.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby eSOANEM » Sat Oct 13, 2012 12:15 pm UTC

screen317 wrote:I have never heard this pause (the second comma) in speech:
I see this point made quite often and whilst I understand it, I do not necessarily agree because, for me at least . . .
Perhaps it would seem more reasonable as:

I see this point made quite often, and whilst I understand it, I do not necessarily agree because for me at least . . .



Commas after "whereas" also bother me. Why not put the comma before??


I very definitely have a slight pause there (the "for me at least" is parenthetical but I chose to write it with commas instead for some reason).

You're right about whereas though, the comma definitely doesn't reflect my speech at all, it just seemed more natural to write it that way for some reason.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Oct 13, 2012 3:59 pm UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:Commas don't always reflect pronunciation. In the maximal comma style, they separate any clause.
Except, "for me at least" isn't a clause. There's also the question, when there are conjunctions, of where the comma should go relative to said conjunction.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Derek » Sat Oct 13, 2012 8:20 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Iulus Cofield wrote:Commas don't always reflect pronunciation. In the maximal comma style, they separate any clause.
Except, "for me at least" isn't a clause. There's also the question, when there are conjunctions, of where the comma should go relative to said conjunction.

Always before, and sometimes after, for me.

Now I'm waiting for someone to provide an example sentence to prove me wrong.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Iulus Cofield » Sat Oct 13, 2012 9:02 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Iulus Cofield wrote:Commas don't always reflect pronunciation. In the maximal comma style, they separate any clause.
Except, "for me at least" isn't a clause. There's also the question, when there are conjunctions, of where the comma should go relative to said conjunction.


I meant to end that post with ", for example", but figured it was unnecessary to go back and edit it.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Oct 13, 2012 10:11 pm UTC

Derek wrote:Always before, and sometimes after, for me.

Now I'm waiting for someone to provide an example sentence to prove me wrong.
I'm typing this sentence so you'll have your counterexample.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Derek » Sun Oct 14, 2012 3:05 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Derek wrote:Always before, and sometimes after, for me.

Now I'm waiting for someone to provide an example sentence to prove me wrong.
I'm typing this sentence so you'll have your counterexample.

Much appreciated :D

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Oct 14, 2012 5:02 am UTC

I can think of others if you want.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Catmando » Sun Oct 14, 2012 7:36 am UTC

One thing I've always found odd is that some long sentences are easy for me to follow, like the one in gmalivuk's first post, while others are very difficult for me and have me reading and re-reading. The latter is the effect he was talking about, I think, but what is the problem here: me, or just bad prose? That is, am I just a very bad reader, or particularly bad at reading complex prose, or does the prose just happen to be badly constructed? Can it be both, or either at different times?

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Oct 14, 2012 3:53 pm UTC

Yes.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby thalia » Wed Oct 17, 2012 8:11 am UTC

I often struggle with adding commas in the English language, because the rules are different for commas in Norwegian. In Norwegian (and correct me if I am horribly wrong, fellow Norwegians, as I am typing from memory), every part of the sentence that is separated by a comma needs to be a complete sentence with a verb, subjective and direct object. (NOTE: This was what I thought when I began typing this post. It is wrong. See below.) Unless you are listing; in which case the list items can be separated by commas as well. By the way, is that the correct use of a semi-colon?

Okay, I was going to give an example, but I just revised the comma rules in Norwegian and I am way off. Way, way off. Am assuming that I make a lot of mistakes now. Would appreciate correction.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Derek » Wed Oct 17, 2012 5:10 pm UTC

thalia wrote:By the way, is that the correct use of a semi-colon?

Yes. A semi-colon is the basically same as a period, except it implies that the sentences being connected are somehow related.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Makri » Mon Oct 22, 2012 12:29 pm UTC

Sentence length per se is not what makes parsing difficult. There are two things that count: number of levels of embedding, and the issue of anaphora resolution.

The italic sentence in the starting post of this thread is therefore a very bad test, because it contains an unresolved anaphora: I find it very hard to parse the sentence without having any idea about what the hell "it" is supposed to refer to. Gmalivuk's sentence, while heavier in embedding, was much easier to process for me because I knew all the time what it was about and could build a mental representation of the situation described.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Daimon » Tue Nov 13, 2012 6:58 pm UTC

.................

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby tomandlu » Fri Feb 22, 2013 6:45 am UTC

Derek wrote:
thalia wrote:By the way, is that the correct use of a semi-colon?

Yes. A semi-colon is the basically same as a period, except it implies that the sentences being connected are somehow related.


I tend to avoid the semi-colon except when separating items in complex lists where the items themselves may have commas.

That aside, my understanding is that generally they should only separate clauses when:

  • The two clauses, although related, could stand alone
  • The implied missing conjunction is 'but'
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Aiwendil » Fri Feb 22, 2013 10:33 am UTC

The two clauses, although related, could stand alone
The implied missing conjunction is 'but'


The first point is certainly correct, but the second is much too restrictive.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby tomandlu » Fri Feb 22, 2013 10:37 am UTC

Aiwendil wrote:
The two clauses, although related, could stand alone
The implied missing conjunction is 'but'


The first point is certainly correct, but the second is much too restrictive.


'but', specifically, may be too restrictive - I should probably rephrase that as 'the two clauses should be contrasting'.
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Aiwendil » Fri Feb 22, 2013 2:24 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:'but', specifically, may be too restrictive - I should probably rephrase that as 'the two clauses should be contrasting'.


That's still too restrictive. In fact, I'd say it's more usual for the second clause to reinforce or explain the first, rather than contrast with it. For example: "I use semi-colons constantly; I'm rather fond of them."

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby tomandlu » Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:05 pm UTC

Aiwendil wrote:
tomandlu wrote:'but', specifically, may be too restrictive - I should probably rephrase that as 'the two clauses should be contrasting'.


That's still too restrictive. In fact, I'd say it's more usual for the second clause to reinforce or explain the first, rather than contrast with it. For example: "I use semi-colons constantly; I'm rather fond of them."


Fair enough - digging around the internet and in my main grammar reference, it would seem that there's support for both our views. Bit moot really - I still never use them except in lists... ;)
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby tomandlu » Sun Feb 24, 2013 7:55 am UTC

tomandlu wrote:Fair enough - digging around the internet and in my main grammar reference, it would seem that there's support for both our views. Bit moot really - I still never use them except in lists... ;)


Ah - having re-read one of my grammar books more closely, I'm coming around to your view. The bit I had miss-remembered was that the general rule is that you can use a semi-colon when the dropped conjunction is a coordinating one (and, but, or, etc.), but not when it's a subordinate one (because, as, if, etc.).
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby Magnanimous » Sun Feb 24, 2013 8:57 am UTC

This thread isn't complete without the dedication for Les Miserables.
So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a hell on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century–the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labor, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night–are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this.

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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby tomandlu » Sun Feb 24, 2013 12:35 pm UTC

Magnanimous wrote:This thread isn't complete without the dedication for Les Miserables.
So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a hell on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century–the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labor, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night–are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this.


Is it just me, or is that an amazing bit of writing and punctuation? Is it famous for it? I've never come across it before (or read Les Miserables to my shame).
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Re: Effectively writing Long sentences in English

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Mar 09, 2013 9:06 pm UTC

I'm kinda proud of this paragraph consisting of three rather complex three-part sentences about online dating:
gmalivuk wrote:If you meet someone at, say, a party, then talking to that person can involve 30 seconds of pleasantries before getting to more interesting stuff, the decision to talk to that person (and their decision to talk to you) is made among only a couple dozen people at most (namely the other folks at the party), and the conversation begins with no starting information about what each of you likes or your personality or whatever. On the other hand, interacting on OkC means, first, that you're asking that person to wait minutes, hours, or days between the first few messages, second that you expect them to choose you from among hundreds or even thousands of other potential conversation partners, and finally that you've already got access to a fair amount of background information about the person. As such, starting with contentless messages like, "Hi, how's it going?", means the person will have to spend those initial minutes, hours, or days getting through mere pleasantries before having the opportunity to exchange any meaningful information; avoiding specifics about their own profile is counterproductive because it makes it look like you didn't actually put in any effort to talk to them in particular, so they wonder why they should put any effort into responding; and holding back about your life and who you are is futile, since if you have a good profile they'll find all that stuff out anyway.
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