When it comes to writing, oftentimes less is better. Learning how to shorten your sentences can give your writing the flow it needs to hook readers.
Even if your writing style is long, flowing sentences, you might want to challenge yourself to see if you can say the same thing but cut out all the unnecessary words.
Hemingway was famous for a minimalistic style of writing that focused on short sentences that got right to the point. If you ever read his books, you’ll see it as a constant style throughout.
It’s not everyone’s personal writing style, but if you want to shorten your sentences, this article will walk you through how to shorten them, some tips and tricks to make it easier, and then show you some examples.
Why You Should Shorten Your Sentences
Short sentences can also be a way to deliver more of a “punch” to your writing or hammer home a point you’re trying to make.
Bloggers and online writers know how important it is to keep sentences short and to the point. Shorter paragraphs help readers move through the text in a faster way than other kinds of sentences.
It’s why you’ll often see blog posts have not only short sentences, but short paragraphs as well. It helps move the eye along and can help readers skim through to find the parts they want to read.
You don’t want to lose readers in long, overcrowded sentences and paragraphs.
Of course, there are a few writers famous for their long, flowing sentences, but it never hurts to learn how to write shorter sentences. Even if you choose to use both in your writing, it can be a good tool for you to convey different meanings.
Sometimes, short sentences can pack more of a “punch” than other sentences. They’re so direct that they can catch attention and deliver a strong message.
Keep in mind, you don’t want your sentences to be so short that you completely lose every single detail in your writing. You want to find a good balance of giving readers enough but not so much that they lose interest.
How to Shorten Your Sentences — Tips and Tricks
Now that you’ve decided you want to start shortening your sentences, the next thing you need to know is how to actually do it. You’ll need to develop a strong eye for editing your writing. Check out our guide here on 25 tips to do so!
Let’s go over a few ways you can start to tell if your sentences are getting too long.
1. Look for commas
Once you start having a ton of commas, that’s a sign that your sentences are getting long. Commas are often used to string together multiple ideas, which you could easily break up into separate sentences with a period instead.
2. Look for conjunctions
If you start to see a lot of “and, or, but” conjunctions in your sentences, you might be able to make those two separate sentences. Try taking them out and see if the sentence works as two different sentences.
3. Measure by word count
It depends on the context, but over 100 words usually means the sentence is too long.
4. Remove redundant words
This one might take some practice, but you’ll need to practice going through your sentences and seeing which words you can take out without losing your meaning.
A helpful exercise: think of the main point you’re trying to get across to readers. Hack everything down until you are just at that point and see if that still works.
5. Use tools
There are many online editing tools that can help you hack your sentences down to the bare minimum. One of the most famous tools for this is the Hemingway editor. This tool is named after Hemingway who was famous for his short and right-to-the-point sentences.
Other tools like ProWritingAid and Grammarly can also help with this.
6. Use the active voice
It’s not always the case, but using the active voice can help you write shorter sentences. Why? Because you’re focused on describing the person and their actions.
How to Shorten Your Sentences — Examples
One of the most famous examples of a short sentence was when Hemingway was challenged to write a short story using only 6 words. He wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
On the flip side, one of the longest sentences ever written is the 36 page, 3,687 word monologue by Molly Bloom in Ulysses by James Joyce.
Now, I would never dare to say that I could write better than some of the author’s examples we’re going to use, but they’re famously long sentences that we’re going to work on shortening.
Keep in mind, some of these sentences will arguably lose some of their details and flair.
First example: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The original text:
“Her plan for the morning thus settled, she sat quietly down to her book after breakfast, resolving to remain in the same place and the same employment until the clock struck one; and from habitude very little inconvenienced by the remarks and ejaculations of Mrs. Allen, whose vacancy of mind and incapacity for thinking were such, that as she never talked a great deal, so she could never be entirely silent; and, therefore, while she sat at her work, if she lost her needle or broke her thread, if she heard a carriage in the street, or saw a speck upon her gown, she must observe it aloud, whether there were anyone at leisure to answer her or not.”
Her plan for the morning was settled. She decided to stay in the same place until the clock struck one and would discuss out loud what she observed that day.
Second example: The Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The original text:
“Sometimes, though, there is a ghostly rumble among the drums, an asthmatic whisper in the trombones that swings me back into the early twenties when we drank wood alcohol and every day in every way grew better and better, and there was a first abortive shortening of the skirts, and girls all looked alike in sweater dresses, and people you didn’t want to know said ‘Yes, we have no bananas’, and it seemed only a question of a few years before the older people would step aside and let the world be run by those who saw things as they were and it all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more.”
There is a ghostly rumble among the drums that swing me back into the early twenties when we drank wood alcohol. It seemed only a question of a few years before the older people would step aside and let the world be run by those who saw things as they were. It all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more.
Third example: Rabbit, Run by John Updike
“But then they were married (she felt awful about being pregnant before but Harry had been talking about marriage for a while and anyway laughed when she told him in early February about missing her period and said Great she was terribly frightened and he said Great and lifted her put his arms around under her bottom and lifted her like you would a child he could be so wonderful when you didn’t expect it in a way it seemed important that you didn’t expect it there was so much nice in him she couldn’t explain to anybody she had been so frightened about being pregnant and he made her be proud) they were married after her missing her second period in March and she was still little clumsy dark-complected Janice Springer and her husband was a conceited lunk who wasn’t good for anything in the world Daddy said and the feeling of being alone would melt a little with a little drink.”
By then, they were married. She felt awful about being pregnant before, but Harry had been talking about marriage for a while and was excited when she told him.
With every kind of writing, it’s essential that you decide as the author what is truly important to keep in.
Looking for more resources?
If you’re looking for more tips and resources to improve your writing, these can help.
- On Writing Well – William Zinsser (book)
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King (book)
- Elements of Style – William Strunk Jr. and EB White (book)
- ProWritingAid (grammar software tool)
- Grammarly (grammar software tool)