January 30, 2023

How to Master Long Sentences

TOPICS: , , , , ,

Short sentences are often best, but there's nothing wrong with long sentences if they work. Understanding the mechanics of sentence-building — like coordination and modifying phrases — and omitting needless words are key to making long sentences effective .

Click player above to listen to the podcast

Comma question from a friend
Posted by June on January 30, 2023
LABELS: , , , ,

A friend asked me about the commas in this sentence, which appeared in a textbook she was editing: "Greta had learned about different cultures, and perhaps more importantly about her own.”

My friend, Tracy, thought it would be better if she moved the commas around and wanted to know if I agreed. Here’s how she wanted to write it: "Greta had learned about different cultures, and, perhaps more importantly, about her own."

There’s no single answer here, but, as I told her, I like her commas better because they're more logical. Technically, you’re not supposed to put a comma before an “and” that doesn't precede a whole clause. Though you can if you really want to indicate a strong division or pause.

So here commas do a more logical job of setting off a parenthetical — “perhaps more importantly” — from a sentence that otherwise wouldn't need a comma: “Greta learned about different cultures and about her own."

And if you bristled about the use of “importantly” instead of “important,” you’re not alone. Tracy didn’t like it, either, just like the many people who prefer “important” to “importantly” in contexts like these.

These folks think the adverb form, “importantly,” is wrong here because adverbs describe the manner in which an action takes place. From this perspective, “Greta learned about different cultures, most importantly, her own,” suggests that the adverb “importantly” is modifying the verb “learned,” saying that she somehow went about learning in an important way.

That would be true if adverbs only modified verbs. But in fact adverbs can modify whole sentences or thoughts, as in “Unfortunately, my flight was canceled.” So “importantly” is always an acceptable way to modify a whole thought.

June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

The Best Punctuation Book, Period

A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson

The most comprehensive punctuation guide ever, “The Best Punctuation Book, Period” doesn’t just cover the basic rules. It delves into gray areas of punctuation left unclear by the other rule books, showing how the rules differ in four different editing styles. There's also an A to Z reference of commonly mispunctuated terms. more

Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies

A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite

What do suicidal pandas, doped-up rock stars, and a naked Pamela Anderson have in common? They’re all a heck of a lot more interesting than reading about predicate nominatives and hyphens. June Casagrande knows this and has invented a whole new twist on the grammar book. more

Mortal Syntax

Mortal Syntax takes on the 101 most frequently attacked usage choices. Dedicating one short chapter to each, Casagrande brings her subject to life, teaching English usage through lively and amusing personal anecdotes. more

It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences

Your story may be brilliant. Your insights may be groundbreaking. Your characters may be so real you can almost touch them. But they're not worth a thing if you can't bring them to life in well-written sentences. more