(Don’t) put a stop to it.
In workshops, we tell people to watch out. To watch out for the long sentence. Because long sentences are bad. They’re confusing. You lose your thread. You have to go back and read them again. It’s all too easy to do, of course. You start on a thought and then you’re off. And before you know it, you’ve gone on. And on. And on. For ages. They’re difficult to follow, long sentences.
But recently we’ve noticed something else. And that’s the opposite problem. The problem of the short sentence. Where people over-compensate. And go the other way. And start to make all their sentences short. Really short. It’s copywriters. Mainly. And it’s just as bad as the thing about short sentences. It’s juddering. Jarring. Twitchy. Staccato. Stuttering.
When you read a long sentence, you run out of breath. When you read a passage that’s all short sentences? You hyper-ventilate.
A short sentence gives you pace, punch and timing. But they’re your spice and seasoning – not your meat and potatoes. Please, addicts of the stuttering sentence, use them more sparingly: ‘emphasise everything, and you emphasise nothing’, as somebody once said about something else. It’s time to re-acquaint yourselves with the elegance of the well-balanced sentence, the pleasures of a graceful comma, the more subtle rise and fall of a full-bodied sentence. There’s more to phrasing. Than the full stop.
Not sure if you’re a short sentence addict? Watch out for the following symptoms:
- You’ve forgotten how to use a comma, a semicolon and parentheses. (Or brackets.)
- You have an unusually high percentage of sentences starting with ‘and’ and ‘but’. But for no real reason.
- You read this post and didn’t see anything wrong. With it.