Recently someone asked me to write some nerdy sentences. As a grammar nerd who knows the 5 Signs of a Grammar Nerd, I thought this would be easy. But first, I needed a definition.
A nerdy sentence might be defined by its length, but length for length’s sake is only one aspect. Ideally, the sentence should be grammatically correct, flow naturally, and avoid confusing the reader.
What Is the Definition of Nerdy?
The term “nerd” is frequently used to indicate enthusiasm or knowledge (e.g., theater nerd) or to proudly describe a characteristic (word nerd).
It can also be used to refer to a person who is an expert in a single subject, such as grammar, computers, or Star Trek films.
Speaking of movies, nerds are frequently socially awkward characters. They are eccentrics who have book smarts but little street smarts, and they struggle to fit in. Their peers frequently shun them.
Regardless of how you define yourself, you should know that Dr. Seuss was the first writer to use the word nerd.
What Makes a Nerdy Sentence
Nerdy sentences must show that the writer is enthusiastic about writing and an expert in grammar. You can be an eccentric, socially awkward nerd if you want, but without enthusiasm and grammar expertise, you won’t be able to write nerdy sentences.
Let’s start with an easy sentence.
Why is that a nerdy sentence? Because it has an implied subject [You]. Commands don’t need an explicitly stated subject, something a grammar nerd should know.
Address a person, and you get this sentence:
At first glance, Nerd looks like the subject. However, a name is in the same class as an interjection. This is called the vocative case (for the Ubernerds). If you wrote
Mom, you haven’t washed the dishes!
The subject is you, not Mom.
Here’s a nerdy sentence because of the transitions:
However, most sentences need a subject; therefore, this compound sentence will, consequently, contain two subjects.
In the above sentence, all the conjunctions are conjunctive adverbs. Conjunctive adverbs are interesting; however, they can sound stuffy; therefore, writers use them sparingly.
A nerdy sentence can also be long. James Joyce is often cited as having the longest sentence, which can be found in Ulysses and contains 3,687 words. William Faulkner has a 1,288 word sentence in Absalom, Absalom. The English novelist Jonathan Coe wrote a 33-page sentence that has almost 14,000 words. Donald Barthelme wrote a short story ironically entitled The Sentence. Follow the link if you want to read this behemoth of a sentence.
However, a long sentence that is grammatically correct is far more challenging. This example from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh contains 194 words.
“In after-years he liked to think that he had been in Very Great Danger during the Terrible Flood, but the only danger he had really been in was in the last half-hour of his imprisonment, when Owl, who had just flown up, sat on a branch of his tree to comfort him, and told him a very long story about an aunt who had once laid a seagull’s egg by mistake, and the story went on and on, rather like this sentence, until Piglet who was listening out of his window without much hope, went to sleep quietly and naturally, slipping slowly out of the window towards the water until he was only hanging on by his toes, at which moment luckily, a sudden loud squawk from Owl, which was really part of the story, being what his aunt said, woke the Piglet up and just gave him time to jerk himself back into safety and say, “How interesting, and did she?” when—well, you can imagine his joy when at last he saw the good ship, The Brain of Pooh (Captain, C. Robin; 1st Mate, P. Bear) coming over the sea to rescue him.”
Other long sentences include a 200 word one from Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. It begins
“About this time, when some rain began to fall, Sancho proposed that they should shelter themselves in the fulling-mill…”
Charles Dickens has a 216-word sentence in Barnaby Rudge. It starts
“There he sat, watching his wife as she decorated the room with flowers for the greater honour of Dolly and Joseph Willet, who had gone out walking, and for whom the tea-kettle had been singing gaily on the hob full twenty minutes…”
He must have set out to beat it with a 251-word sentence later in the same novel.
War and Peace contains over 1,400 pages. Somewhere in those pages, Tolstoy wrote a 307 word sentence that begins like this:
“But Count Rastopchin, who now shamed those who were leaving, now evacuated government offices, now distributed good-for-nothing weapons among the drunken riffraff, now took up icons, now forbade Augustin to evacuate relics and icons…”
How to Write a Nerdy Sentence
Writing a long, nerdy sentence is not as difficult as one might think.
First, give yourself a reasonable goal. Don’t try to write a 200 word sentence. Aim for 40 to 50 words.
Next, communicate your main idea (the core of the sentence) first, and then build on it.
Do not break up this core sentence. A reader who encounters a long sentence and is confused at the beginning is likely to skip over it.
A sentence that you break up by adding supporting details or an idea that is tangentially related but still interesting is more difficult to read.
Compare that to
A sentence that you break up is more difficult to read if you place supporting details or tangentially related but still interesting information in the middle.
Once you have decided on the core of your sentence, continue elaborating on it, using techniques such as repetition combined with transitional words (such as and, but, however), as you string ideas together; in addition, keep the core of your sentence in mind as your sentence weaves and wanders from idea to idea, and don’t forget that a good sentence needs a rhythm to propel it forward, and you create this rhythm by combining long and short phrases and clauses until you have written a sentence, such as this one, that contains 94 words.
The Weird Al Yankovic song “White and Nerdy” fits here, not because of the title, but because of the lengthy lyrics that are brilliant…..
Follow the link if you want to write palindromic sentences. And if you want to find out if you meet the criteria for grammar nerdiness, try the Grammar Nerd Quiz.