2

So, I recently found this article detailing the peculiarities of a one sentence paragraph. One of the examples they gave of a one sentence paragraph at work was the preamble to the United States Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

In this grammatically correct and relevant sentence, the ideals and ambitions of an entire country is laid out in one solitary sentence.

This got me wondering if there is any kind of limit in the english language that would prohibit one from writing an entire news article, essay, or dissertation in just such a way. Essentially, is it possible to construct one sentence that discusses the merits of an issue or idea as effectively as a traditional writing piece with multiple paragraphs of several sentences each?

closed as off-topic by Edwin Ashworth, sumelic, GoldenGremlin, David, curiousdannii Jul 13 '17 at 14:23

  • This question does not appear to be about English language and usage within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    Besides readability, I don't think so. If all your newspaper articles looked like that, you might start losing all but the most formal readers. – marcellothearcane Jul 12 '17 at 15:58
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about style rather than grammar, includes no reference addressing discourse grammar (eg recommended length of sentence), and is very close to being trivia-orientated. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 12 '17 at 21:14
3

Usage isn't governed by rules: usage creates rules. And then breaks them. And creates new ones. And so on, ad astra.

And, the more creatively and elegantly a rule is broken, the more likely it is to be imitated, "paid homage to", derived from, and variously bent, folded, mutilated, and spindled, til the new way becomes an established trope, and then a rule unto itself, vigorously defended by prescriptivists from the very highest parapets of the ivory tower.

So the answer to "how long can a sentence be?" is "however long you can get away with", and by "get way with" I mean construct in such a way other people will find compelling and convincing, and ultimately worthy of copying.

In terms of usual suspects cited, see for example this Barnes & Nobles Reads column:

There’s Molly Bloom’s 36-page, two-sentence monologue in Ulysses, or Victor Hugo’s 800-plus line [sentence] in Les Misérables.

Proust is also often cited as a loquacious author, regularly emitting 398-, 426-, 447, 599- and even 958-word sentences.

As for the current record holder, as detailed by 5 Wonderfully Long Literary Sentences, via @ab2 in the comments:

[the] record has long been surpassed, in English at least, by Jonathan Coe’s The Rotter’s Club, which ends with a 33-page-long, 13,955 word sentence.

For more engaging examples, it's worth digesting the curated list of 7 beautiful run-on sentences in the B&N blog.

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