Pace Ernest Hemingway, many writers feel that the longer the sentence, the more elegant the style. They admire the succession of clauses and phrases that keep putting off the necessity of a period.

Curiously, this kind of sentence is sometimes called a period: “a well-proportioned sentence of several clauses” (“Period,” def. 2a). Merriam-Webster gives an example of this term: “stately period.” James Boswell, praising Samuel Johnson, wrote, “. . . and such is the melody of his periods, so much do they captivate the ear, and seize upon the attention, that there is scarcely any writer, however inconsiderable, who does not aim, in some degree, at the same species of excellence” (125).

Editorial advice: don’t strain to be a prose stylist. If two clauses don’t really go together, refrain from splicing them with a semicolon or connecting word and use a period—that is, as the Brits say, a full stop.

Works Cited

Boswell, James. The Life of Samuel Johnson. 1791. Penguin Books, 2008.

“Period, N.” Merriam-Webster Unabridged, 2017, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/period.

Photo of Michael Kandel

Michael Kandel

Michael Kandel edited publications at the MLA for twenty-one years. He also translated several Polish writers, among them Stanisław Lem, Andrzej Stasiuk, Marek Huberath, and Paweł Huelle, and edited, for Harcourt Brace, several American writers, among them Jonathan Lethem, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Morrow, and Patricia Anthony.