Sentences may be classified according to length as (1) short, containing 15 words or less; (2) medium, from 15 to 30 words; and (3) long, 30 words or more. Each of these types of sentence has its own peculiar advantages.
The short sentence, because it is easily apprehended, is more emphatic than a longer one. Used in combination with medium and long sentences it gains prominence by contrast. It makes an emphatic beginning and a strong conclusion for a paragraph. As the last sentence of an article it is a good "snapper." In contrast with longer statements, it also serves as a convenient transition sentence.
The sentence of medium length lends itself readily to the expression of the average thought; but when used continuously it gives to the style a monotony of rhythm that soon becomes tiresome.
The long sentence is convenient for grouping details that are closely connected.
In contrast with the rapid, emphatic short sentence, it moves slowly and deliberately, and so is well adapted to the expression of dignified and impressive thoughts.
To prevent monotony, variety of sentence length is desirable. Writers who unconsciously tend to use sentences of about the same length and of the same construction, need to beware of this uniformity.
The skillful use of single short sentences, of series of short sentences, of medium, and of long sentences, to give variety, to express thoughts effectively, and to produce harmony between the movement of the style and the ideas advanced, is well illustrated in the selection below. It is the beginning of a personality sketch of William II, the former German emperor, published in the London Daily News before the world war, and written by Mr. A.G. Gardiner, the editor of that paper.
When I think of the Kaiser I think of a bright May morning at Potsdam. It is the Spring Parade, and across from where we are gathered under the windows of the old palace the household troops are drawn up on the great parade ground, their helmets and banners and lances all astir in the jolly sunshine. Officers gallop hither and thither shouting commands. Regiments form and reform. Swords flash out and flash back again. A noble background of trees frames the gay picture with cool green foliage. There is a sudden stillness.
The closely serried ranks are rigid and moveless. The shouts of command are silenced.
"The Kaiser." He comes slowly up the parade ground on his white charger, helmet and eagle flashing in the sunshine, sitting his horse as if he lived in the saddle, his face turned to his men as he passes by.
"Morgen, meine Kinder." His salutation rings out at intervals in the clear morning air. And back from the ranks in chorus comes the response: "Morgen, Majestät." And as he rides on, master of a million men, the most powerful figure in Europe, reviewing his troops on the peaceful parade ground at Potsdam, one wonders whether the day will ever come when he will ride down those ranks on another errand, and when that cheerful response of the soldiers will have in it the ancient ring of doom —"Te morituri salutamus." For answer, let us look at this challenging figure on the white charger. What is he? What has he done? By the three short sentences in the first paragraph beginning "Officers gallop," the author depicts the rapid movement of the soldiers. By the next three short sentences in the same paragraph beginning, "There is a sudden stillness," he produces an impression of suspense. To picture the Kaiser coming up "slowly," he uses a long, leisurely sentence. The salutations "ring out" in short, crisp sentences. The more serious, impressive thought of the possibility of war finds fitting expression in the long, 64-word sentence, ending with the sonorous —"ring of doom," "Te morituri salutamus." The transition between the introduction and the body of the sketch is accomplished by the last paragraph consisting of three short sentences, in marked contrast with the climactic effect with which the description closed.
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