Longest English sentence

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There have been several claims for the longest sentence in the English language, usually with claims that revolve around the longest printed sentence. There is no absolute limit on the length of a written English sentence. A sentence can be made as long as time allows with concatenating (linking) clauses using grammatical conjunctions such as and. Sentences can also be extended indefinitely by the addition of modifiers and modifier clauses, such as:

The mouse that the cat that the dog chased ....[1]

or of successive extensions of the form

Someone thinks that someone thinks that someone thinks that...,[2]

The longest grammatically correct sentence is contained in Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. The sentence is composed of 1,292 words (In the 1951 Random House version). Another sentence that is often claimed to be the longest sentence ever written is Molly Bloom's soliloquy in the James Joyce novel Ulysses, which contains a sentence of 4,391 words. However, this sentence is simply many sentences without punctuation. Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club appears to hold the record at 13,955 words. It was inspired by Bohumil Hrabal's Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age: a Czech language novel that consisted of one great sentence.[3]

The ability to embed structures within larger ones is called recursion.[4] This also highlights the difference between linguistic performance and linguistic competence, because the language can support more variation than can reasonably be created or recorded.[2] At least one linguistics textbook concludes that, in theory, "there is no longest English sentence".[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elaine Rich (2007). Automata, Computability and Complexity: Theory and Applications. Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-228806-0. 
  2. ^ a b Stephen Crain; Diane Lillo-Martin (1999). An Introduction to Linguistic Theory and Language Acquisition. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-19536-X. 
  3. ^ Jones, Rebecca (3 October 2014). "Longest Sentence". Today. BBC. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Carnie, Andrew (2013). Syntax: A Generative Introduction (third ed.). Singapore: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-470-65531-3. 
  5. ^ Steven E. Weisler; Slavoljub P. Milekic; Slavko Milekic (2000). Theory of Language. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-73125-8. 

External links and references[edit]