Question from Rima in the USA:

This sentence is driving us crazy! I realize it could be called compound, complex, compound-complex, or just crazy, but I have to ask: Is this sentence technically written wrongly?

“In Canada, the Smith family of Toronto, who wanted to replace their old automobile with a new fuel-efficient vehicle that could travel greater distances at the same cost, sought advice from another Toronto native, Ed Johnson, who assisted engineers in designing what became the Smith-Johnson automobile, which the Smiths used for all of their family vacations to travel as far as Mexico City, Mexico.”

What do you call a sentence like this?

Answer:

Hi Rima. Well, what I would call this sentence is ‘too long‘!

Good reasons for changing punctuation and structure can often be found by reading out loud – if you’re out of breath at the end of the sentence I’d say it needs changing!

It is compound and it is complex but more than anything else it is a jumble of clauses and sub-clauses that make it nearly impossible to focus on which clause refers to which subject and object. My advice would be to re-write the sentence into several shorter, clearer sentences. One way would be like this:

In Canada, the Smith family of Toronto wanted to replace their old authomobile with a new fuel-efficient vehicle that could travel greater distances at the same cost. They sought advice from another Toronto native, Ed Johnson. Mr Johnson assisted engineers in designing what became the Smith-Johnson automobile. The Smiths used this vehicle for all of their family vacations and to travel as far as Mexico City, Mexico.

In terms of the word count the paragraph is about the same but by breaking it up into shorter sentences we’ve been able to clarify each statement and provide an easier to read version of your ‘marathon’ sentence example!

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