I often see world-renowned thinkers and writers, such as Nietszche and Herman Melville, write extremely long sentences. When I was in high school, people said sentences should be as short as possible, but I definitively see these world-renowned authors do away with this rule or advice. When do you think one should write very long sentences? Is there any reason to do so?

1 Answer 1


Sometimes a longer sentence improves the flow of the prose.

Rules are there to guide us. We were all taught to be terse, keeping our sentences short. Then you read a masterpiece and see a paragraph that is one sentence. (That sentence would probably flow better if I just wrote it thusly ‘We are all taught to be terse, keeping our sentences short; then you read a masterpiece and see a paragraph that is one sentence.’)

Rules are made to be broken once we understand how and when to do so. James Joyce wrote Ulysses and some could not understand his new stream of consciousness. I see examples of it in many works (including my own) and the influence is there.

Hugo writes the occasional long sentence and they are perfect. Conrad, likewise, indulges in the longer sentence when it suits his narrative.

I have a few sentences that might have been two separate ones, but I am showing an instant shift in attention or subject of the character. A character thinking about, in one instance, how much he loves his wife and what he’d do to anyone who even thought harm to her shifts in a moment to the realization that his brother in-law would feel the same and maybe, misinformed, he had put a hit on him. I have that in one long sentence because his thought was going one direction and would have finished where one expects - until epiphany strikes.

Short sentences can convey a sense of urgency. Longer sentences can be more difficult to write well as one might ramble - hence the teaching keep sentences short. Short ones are more clear.

Long sentences can be descriptive, florid and beautiful, but you run the risk of confusing the reader. Used sparingly, they are most effective. If used too often, the reader notices and might think said author thinks periods cost him money and other punctuation does not.

In Les Miserables, Hugo waxes nostalgic and remembers Paris in one passage. It is gorgeous, profound and melodic. The sentences are also extremely long. It is perfect.

You write as you should for the situation. If you have related thoughts that blend or contrast but might not be of equal significance, a new sentence is not required.

  • As Radashan says and please remember, being comfortable with a particular style is often the important thing. What good to get it all right in theory but find the words flow like treacle? Commented May 6, 2020 at 14:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.