Find Comfortable Break Points to Shorten Complicated Sentences

Another reason sentences can be difficult to follow is that they're long and complicated. Whereas compound sentences include two independent clauses connected by a BOY'S FAN word, complicated sentences follow a different pattern.

Typically, a long, complicated sentence starts with a logical structure: It begins with the subject, followed by the verb that goes with the subject, then the object. (The subject is the doer of the action implied by the verb and the object is the receiver of this action.) After this promising beginning, the writer of a complicated sentence usually adds a series of prepositional phrases. Each prepositional phrase might impart important information. Taken together, however, they add too much information all at once. The net result is that the readers aren't informed— they're confused.

Complicated sentences can be shortened by separating units of information. Consider, for example, the following forty-word sentence:

I have reviewed your letter of complaint explaining the difficulties you had in registering your company's representatives for the National Widget

Conference and Trade Show on our website, which was unexpectedly down since our Internet service provider guarantees access.

Most of us would agree that this sentence is poorly written; the writer never apologizes to the customer, for example. Also, it's too long, too wordy, and the writer's purpose is unclear. To start revising it, look for a BOY'S FAN word. Not there. Thus you know the problem isn't that the sentence is compound. It's complicated. It starts simply enough with a traditional structure of subject/verb/object:

I have reviewed your letter.

If you chose, you could stop there. Note that the sentence continues with a series of prepositional and other phrases:

of complaint explaining the difficulties you had in registering your company's representatives for the National Widget Conference and Trade Show on our website, which was unexpectedly down since our Internet service provider guarantees access.

You could revise the sentence to end at the conclusion of any one of these phrases. For example, you might revise the sentence to read:

I have reviewed your letter of complaint. (seven words)

Or, you might end here:

I have reviewed your letter of complaint explaining the difficulties you had. (twelve words)

Or here:

I have reviewed your letter of complaint explaining the difficulties you had in registering your company's representatives. (seventeen words)

Or here:

I have reviewed your letter of complaint explaining the difficulties you had in registering your company's representatives for the National Widget Conference and Trade Show. (twenty-five words)

Or even here:

I have reviewed your letter of complaint explaining the difficulties you had in registering your company's representatives for the National Widget Conference and Trade Show on our website. (twenty-nine words)

There's no one best place to end the sentence. It's your choice. Once you've made your decision, you can easily revise the remaining phrase so it also becomes a complete sentence. For example, you might write:

Please accept my apology that our website was down.

Consider this revision option:

I have reviewed your letter of complaint explaining the difficulties you had in registering your company's representatives for the National Widget Conference and Trade Show. Please accept my apology that our website was down. (Two sentences of twenty-five and ten words average seventeen-and-a-half words per sentence.)

Isn't it better? When revising a complicated sentence, look for a subject/verb/object construction followed by a series of phrases. Find comfortable stopping places, and revise the beginning of each additional sentence to include all appropriate information in the form of a subject, verb, and object.

No matter how long or short your sentences are, you need to avoid sentence fragments. A sentence fragment cannot stand alone as a sentence. (Note that exclamatory expressions such as "Wow!," "Terrific presentation!," or "Too bad!" represent complete sentences.)

A fragment usually lacks words from an adjacent sentence that it needs in order to become complete. Whether the words are nearby, or simply missing, be certain that every sentence has a subject (the doer of the action) and a verb that goes with the subject, and that every sentence expresses a complete thought.

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