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Long Sentences Like a Good Wine Endure Through Time


When did long sentences go out of style? Have we have been taught that in order to grab the attention of the reader we must do it in as few sentences as possible, because we know that the reader’s attention span is very miniscule? The reader’s attention instead has been captured by the electronic age and it is increasingly harder to get people to read. However, in our rush to capture the reader’s attention have our sentences become less vibrant and less meaningful?

Great writers of literature endured the test of time. Their sentences were vibrant and full of meaning and their sentences tantalized our senses like an excellent wine with dinner. Have we become unable to appreciate vibrant verbs, the provocative adjectives, the descriptive adverbs that make a sentence more robust and vibrant? Have our words been reduced to simple sentences on a page?

The longer sentence where every single word is the best that can be found and a word or phrase could not be cut from this without sacrificing anything essential is like a puzzle where every piece fits the picture. Below is an example from the opening of Virginia Woolf’s essay, “One Being Ill.”

“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 view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the water of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and 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, as we are frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”

This sentence has 181 words and like a puzzle each word fits tightly. This sentence is not something to be feared because of the number of words it is something to be embraced for the flow of words sounds like music. It is pleasurable to read, graceful, witty and intelligent. I don’t think Virginia Woolf would take kindly to being told that short sentences that have lost their vigor and meaning are in style today.


Do you strive to become a better writer by writing better sentences? Do you strive to become a better reader by reading the classics? Do you strive to become a better student by writing papers that have not been plagiarized or copied from the internet, but are written in your own words?

My challenge to all writers, readers and students is to read a classic novel. Look up the words that you come across when you don’t know the definition. Write down the definitions, put the words into sentences and try to use a new word a day in your conversation.

Happy Reading!