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?