Today I've heard that when writing an English text, I should try not to use too long sentences.

Not because they are easier to write without grammatical mistakes, but because it'd be typical for the English language to prefer shorter sentences over long, nestled sub-sentences.

Being a German native speaker, this took me by surprise. When writing German texts, I always try to connect sentences, and prefer one with a sub-sentence over two separated sentences.

Unfortunately, I got this advice without a reference to a specific example where I might have used a sentence that's too long, so I can only ask this question in general.

  • 2
    Yes, many typical German sentences are overly long for English. However, you should connect two sentences when they belong together, and leave them as separate sentences when they don't. (For example, the previous sentence could be split in two, but I prefer it as one sentence. Similarly, you could join the first two sentences of this comment, but I prefer them as two.) Commented May 17, 2015 at 11:11
  • 3
    But you may, in part, be hearing misdirected advice. When writing the "translatable" English text for multi-lingual web sites and the like, authors are always advised to only use about 60% of the available space (or rather, page designers are advised to assume the text to be that much larger), since most other languages (German being one of the worst) require more characters to express the same concept. This has nothing to do with whether or not English readers prefer shorter sentences.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 12:17
  • 3
    @HotLicks and PeterShor: As a former commercial translator I wince at the memory. My advertising clients generally gave me websites or dead-trees brochures in which there was no available space, and refused to understand that English generally ran 15% longer than Norwegian. It had to be the same length, or else they would ignore the bill. Long before I gave up the whole profession in despair, I refused to have anything to do with advertising agencies.
    – David Pugh
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 15:18
  • 1
    German can be just as terse as any language. Just because Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung takes up more space than "speed limit" doesn't mean that German will always take more "space" to express an idea than English takes. It depends on the idea and the available vocabulary. But that has really nothing to do with sentence complexity and "typical" writing styles (if there is such a thing).
    – TimR
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 16:28
  • 3
    In academic writing, English tends to use long, complex sentences, whereas German tends to use insanely long, hopelessly complex sentences where you have absolutely no chance of remembering how the sentence started once you finally reach the fourteen verbs piled up on each other at the end. That was a fairly long sentence. That one was short. Both were simple in their construction, though, and should be easy enough to understand. Strive to write simply and comprehensibly (in German and English) instead of thinking about how long your sentences can/should be. Commented May 18, 2015 at 19:45

2 Answers 2


I am a native English speaker, writer and editorial professional, and my opinion is that one relatively long, well-constructed and correctly punctuated sentence is often just as effective as two shorter sentences. That said, I think that more concise, punchier sentences tend to work better than longer ones in certain types of writing, for example, newspaper journalism. I am afraid I cannot offer a comparison with German, because I do not know the language. I hope this helps.


In modern English writing (as opposed to say, Dickens or Austen), readers can see long convoluted sentences as a signpost to: (a) a lack of mental clarity; (b) deliberate obfuscation; (c) poor writing skills; or (worse) self-important time-wasting.

In English, fine poetry is the essence of honed elegance and the briefest is often the best.

I have been told that some foreigners think English speakers are a bit direct in their speech, perhaps even abrupt. We don't mean to be rude, most of the time. Watch a good bout of Euro-English proceeding in Brussels or Strasbourg and observe the eyeballs of the English delegates glazing over. The words are English and the syntax may be nearly correct, but the import is lost in verbiage. If only the speakers could use the simple verb 'can'.

Your English is pretty good already, judging by your question.

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.