Simple Or Complex Sentences


Are you a fan of writing long sentences or do you prefer to always write short and simple ones?

I am not an advocate of English grammar. In fact I don’t think I would be able to list some of the rules of grammar that I have studied in school. Writing for me has become more of a habit. I know that when my sentence doesn’t sound right I have to fix it to something that makes sense. But I do remember over the years my English teachers repeatedly saying: “Make your sentences short and simple.”

A sentence is a group of words put together that makes complete sense.

A simple sentence is one that contains one finite verb.
A complex sentence is one that contains one main clause and one or more subordinate clauses.

Literature is full of examples of all sorts of writing.
When Ernest Hemingway, number one on my list of favorite authors, wrote, every writer in the world started imitating him. In the words of Steinbeck:

“In my time, Ernest Hemingway wrote a certain kind of story better and more effectively than it had ever been done before. He wrote a special kind of story out of a special kind of mind and about special moods and situations. When his method was accepted no other method was admired.”

Leonard Bishop, whose first book Down All Your Streets achieved national acclaim and became a bestseller, also used simple sentences and a tight manner of writing yet for a totally different reason.

“I developed a direct, tight manner of writing. I knew that if I kept my sentences short, no one would suspect I was ignorant. Short sentences couldn’t contain much grammar. The words I used were abrupt, jab words.”

However, you cannot write about all subject matters using the Hemingway style. Some topics such as historical novels where there’s a lot of description and reference to past events cannot be written using short and abrupt sentences. Even though I believe that the best writing is the simplest writing and it is hard to do, perhaps even the hardest thing to do, your main concern as writer should be to move your story forward. Whether you use short and abrupt sentences, or long descriptive ones, you have to keep your readers interested enough in your story for them to want to stay with you till the end.

But I also believe that what you say is more important than how you say it. Here’s how Leonard Bishop explained the main reason his stories were accepted:
“It wasn’t intelligence, it wasn’t imitative cunning, or academic razzle-dazzle, or style. It was content.”

ChK

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7 Responses to Simple Or Complex Sentences

  1. Ara Kazandjian says:

    Every writer should read Jacques Derrida’s “gramatology”. Here is what the book and Derrida is about. Some quotes from Wikipidia about this book.

    The book starts with a review of Saussure’s linguistic structuralism, as presented in the Course in General Linguistics. In particular, Derrida analyzes the concept of “sign”, which for Saussure has the two separate components of sound and meaning. These components are also called signifier (signifiant) and signified (signifié).
    Derrida quotes Saussure: “Language and writing are two distinct systems of signs; the second exists for the sole purpose of representing the first.”
    Critiquing this relationship between speech and writing, Derrida suggests that written symbols are legitimate signifiers on their own—that they should not be considered as secondary or derivative relative to oral speech.
    Derrida argues that throughout the Western philosophical tradition, writing has been considered as merely a derivative form of speech, and thus as a “fall” from the “full presence” of speech. In the course of the work he deconstructs this position as it appears in the work of several writers, showing the myriad aporias and ellipses to which this leads them. Derrida does not claim to be giving a critique of the work of these thinkers, because he does not believe it possible to escape from operating with such oppositions. Nevertheless, he calls for a new science of “grammatology” that would relate to such questions in a new way.

    • chichikir says:

      A great writer is someone who is absent from the story. When you read his work you’ll feel it’s the characters who are talking to you directly and taking you along and not telling you a story. It’s like having a long conversation along the way. Happy writing :)

  2. I believe sentance structure reflects the tone and subject matter of a story – short sentances give the reader a sense of tension and longer one’s glide them into imagining the location and characters. Each author/writer’s unique style is very much reflected on their choice of setnace use.

    • chichikir says:

      So true. Subject matter plays a great role in determining the author’s style. As you mentioned suspense stories where action dominates could not be written using long and descriptive sentences, and vice versa. Thanks and happy writing :)

  3. I like to mix it up a little so that my readers don’t get bored by long drawn-out sentences or annoyed by short choppy ones. In action scenes, the shorter, the better. They provide that sense of urgency necessary to propel the reader forward as fast as the character. My historical references, like you mentioned, require a longer more descriptive sort of sentence.

    That said, I think that everyone should develop their own style of writing and their choice of sentence length will determine that style. :)

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