Writing long sentences correctly

In school, we teach students to avoid run-on sentences. Run-on sentences often happen when we string together two or three perfectly good sentences into one large, clumsy one. Run-ons can be confusing,  hard to follow, and grammatically incorrect–all good reasons to avoid them. This week on days 5 and 6, we’ll take a close look at long sentences.

In many cases, writing short sentences is a good idea. Short sentences are often the easiest way to keep our ideas clear and well organized. But long sentences can add interest and variety to a piece of writing, and they are sometimes the only way to express complex ideas. They can also be fun to read! Here is my favorite long sentence, an extremely well written run-on that you can find in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh:

In after-years [Piglet] liked to think that he had been in Very Great Danger during the Terrible Flood, but the only danger he had really been in was in the last half-hour of his imprisonment, when Owl, who had just flown up, sat on a branch of his tree to comfort him, and told him a very long story about an aunt who had once laid a seagull’s egg by mistake, and the story went on and on, rather like this sentence, until Piglet who was listening out of his window without much hope, went to sleep quietly and naturally, slipping slowly out of the window towards the water until he was only hanging on by his toes, at which moment luckily, a sudden loud squawk from Owl, which was really part of the story, being what his aunt said, woke Piglet up and just gave him time to jerk himself back into safety and say, “How interesting, and did she?” when—well, you can imagine his joy when at last he saw the good ship, The Brain of Pooh(Captain, C. Robin; 1st Mate, P. Bear) coming over the sea to rescue him.
-A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, 145-146.

Only really excellent writers can manage a sentence like that. But even beginning writers can write longer sentences to give variety to their writing. Often this involves hooking together two short sentences. There are rules for this, which you can read more about here. Below I’ve given some examples of the many ways you can hook together two short sentences without ‘breaking the rules’. For fun, I’ve color-coded the independent clauses.

The student wanted to write a long sentence to make her story more interesting, so she used a comma and the word ‘so’ to stick together two smaller sentences.

The teacher was tired of writing boring, short sentences; he decided to use a semi-colon to hook together two related independent clauses!

Ms. Coyle was once a Humanities teacher, and she knew it was wrong to hook together two or more independent clauses with just a comma, so she hooked up three small sentences with commas and coordinating conjunctions.

Today, why don’t you go find a long sentence that you like and write it in your writers’ notebook? Or, if you feel very creative, you can just make one up! If you have time, why not type it in the comments below?

39 thoughts on “Writing long sentences correctly

  1. 1)Mrs.Whitney is the humanities teacher, so she teaches many different things.
    2)Khaled was fast, but he wasnt the fastest, so he decided to give up.

    • Vicotor–You have hooked up three independent clauses using commas and coordinating conjunctions, and you have done it effectively!

  2. A lesson from the Pokemon professor: Pikachu stores electricity in its cheeks;that’s how it uses electric attacks.

    Rarity was mad at Sassy Saddles, so she closed the boutique because no dress was getting TLC.

  3. This sentence won’t be that long, so I will stop writing now, but I might keep writing, and that will help me be better at writing.

    • I love this because I think it is interesting when writers reference the writing they are doing; as you put it, ‘When they break the fourth wall.’

  4. I hate a lot of things: The color yellow; canned tuna; children giggling; double rainbows; cilantro tied with rubber bands; the color orange; brown colored sheep; loud ducks; string cheese; wet doorknobs; the word “moist”; colorful flowers; fast butterflies; slimey frogs; scary lizards; weird shaped bananas; the color pink; math; nail polish; neon blue, and double sided tape.

    • Jayshree, I like a lot of things: students who work hard to write interesting, long sentences; lists that sound like there is a poem hiding inside them; and double-sided tape when I have a poster to stick on a grimy wall.

  5. Bhutan, the last Shangri-La, is know for: natural beauty like the flora and fauna; the happiest country in Asia, the country that uses GNH instead of GDP; and it’s unknown secrets.

    • My wife wants to go back to Bhutan some day because she lived there for a year when she was a little girl; I would like to go also because it sounds so interesting!

    • Do you think the field is more important, or the friends you play with; I’m guessing the friends, but I think a boring field would be a bummer!

    • Maia, this sentence is absolutely brilliant; I love the surprising way you’ve used ‘right’ and ‘write.’ I’m going to borrow this phrase, with your permission, of course.

    • Inbar, from your use of the word ‘once’, I think you are saying you no longer hate reading; I hope that I am right about that!

  6. 1. I was running so fast to not arrive late to class, but sadly the time flew even faster.

    2. Ashley had practice badminton for years; she made the team.

    “It was the best of time, 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 the noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Charles Dickens

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