Multiple Thoughts in One Sentence

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The rule of putting a period at the end of every thought would be simpler, except that in English, we’re allowed to include more than one thought in the same sentence. These thoughts are expressed in clauses, and clauses can be independent or subordinate. For example, that last sentence has two independent clauses, separated by a comma and the word and.

With independent clauses, both thoughts don’t have to be included in the same sentence. In the previous paragraph, I could have said, “These thoughts are expressed in clauses. They can be either independent or dependent.” Do you see how independent they really are? They make sense even when they’re separated.

Putting a period between two independent clauses usually doesn’t make them any harder to understand. The rhythm or flow of the writing is a little choppier, but that is it. Most of the time, long sentences are overused and short sentences are underused. Pay attention to your writing. Are you jamming multiple thoughts in one sentence? Are you doing that over and over again? Perhaps you should use the period more often!

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9 thoughts on “Multiple Thoughts in One Sentence”

  1. Amen!
    But, also remind them not to confuse the period with a comma. Many writers like to separate complete thoughts with commas, invariably creating a comma splice.
    Great tip.

  2. What a tip! And right on time!

    I favor longer sentences. Shorter sentences make me seem amateurish (which I am :)). However, longer sentences increase the number of commas in my works, and I’m tired of that. Pretty sure readers would be sick of them as well.

  3. I tried long ago to start using short sentences when possible. This was at the recommendation of our in house editor. The problem now is that I sometimes fall into the trap of having too many of them.

    I did some translation work a couple of years back where the original copy was written in huge sentences which were often over 120 words long! The writing was being done by a young lady who had no training in writing. It was a nightmare.

  4. This is an old post, but since I just came across it (and because I can’t help myself), I’ll add my two cents.

    Tip #73 from our Writing Tips for a Year addresses the issue of sentence length and simplicity. I have copied it here.

    “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way.” – Mark Twain

    I was once asked whether our editing strategies are appropriate for creative writing or if they are only appropriate for business writing and other formal writing contexts. The answer, of course, is “Yes, they are appropriate for creative writing.” Many of our editing strategies echo Mark Twain’s comment above, and few people would doubt his ability to write good fiction.

    When you are imparting information, whether in a technical document or a narrative document (such as a fiction novel), you need to consider how to impart that information effectively. Styles are different, as are the readers, but writing simply and clearly is necessary to accomplish the purpose for which you are writing.

  5. Writing succinctly and using words with two syllables or less is much harder than writing using three or more syllable words and having multiple commas.

  6. First, DWT is a wonderful idea, and very well executed. Kudos. I was subscribed, but found I was not reading the posts diligently, so they ended up cluttering my inbox. I unsubscribed, and what I am doing instead is going through your archives and reading and noting the ones which are most helpful to me.

    Two things I have noticed as I do this: One, I am learning as much, if not more, by studying how the contributors write, as what is being explicated. Two, the writing between the contributors is inconsistent. This is not a criticism; it is a reflection of the organic nature of the English language and has helped me relax my obsession with trying to find rules cast in stone.

    That being said, I do have a couple of questions regarding this post: “…simpler, except that in English, we’re allowed….” I have issue with the comma placement. I would place it between “that” and “in” and not after “English”. This change would help make the second independent clause (thought) complete. What is the rule here? And I would also like to know why you italicized “and” at the end of the first paragraph rather than use quotation marks. Thoughts?

    Thanks again for the wonderful posts.


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