The Periodic Sentence

Periodic sentences reverse the pattern of loose structure, beginning with subordinate constructions and putting the main clauses at the end:

If there is no future for the black ghetto, the future of all Negroes is diminished. Stanley Sanders

Given a moist planet with methane, formaldehyde, ammonia, and some usable minerals, all of which abound, exposed to lightning or ultraviolet radiation at the right temperature, life might start almost anywhere. Lewis Thomas

There is no one formula for the periodic sentence. Often, however, the opening subordinate constructions are adverbial clauses, as in the example by Stanley Sanders, or participial phrases, as in that by Lewis Thomas.

Whatever kinds of subordination it uses, the periodic style is emphatic. Delaying the principal thought increases its importance. To the degree that more and more subordinate clauses and phrases are accumulated at the beginning, further postponing the main clause, the sense of climax increases (within limits, of course; too long a delay will cause confusion). Here is an instance of effectively postponing the main point:

Paralyzed by the neurotic lassitude engendered by meeting one's past at every turn, around every corner, inside every cupboard, 1 go aimlessly from room to room. Joan Didion

The periodic style is also more formal and literary than the loose, suggesting a writer at a desk rather than a speaker in a relaxed social setting, a tone advantageous on formal occasions, though less so when informality is desired.

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  • Wilibald
    What is periodical writing process?
    8 years ago
  • benjamin
    What is a periodic sentence?
    2 years ago

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