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From my very personal view it looks like especially in scientific related texts Germans use in average longer sentences than in English literature. This could be wrong perception, as a lot of non english native speaking people write in English and it is easier to write shorter sentences correctly. But also reading English written scientific blogs compared to german, it looks like it is more accepted by germans to read long interlaced sentences or the German language offers more options for subordinate clauses.

Is there any evidence for this or do i have a mis-perception of this phenomenon? Is this just due to English being a world-language, so shorter sentences are in common better understandable for most non native speaking people?

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Maybe cause German words are longer than English ones. – user508 Jul 14 '11 at 20:22
@Gigili: German sentences are typically longer even if you just count the words, not the characters. More subordinate clauses, for example. – OregonGhost Jul 14 '11 at 20:29
Ich finde, dass man in der deutschen Sprache definitiv eher längere Sätze verwendet, die, vorwiegend durch lange Nebensätze künstlich aufgebläht, den Leser oft anstrengen, weil dieser den Satz oft mehrfach lesen muss, um den Gedanken des Autors zu erfassen, was schnelles Lesen verhindert und den Lesenden oft aus seinem Lesefluss reist, wie man zum Beispiel an diesem äußerst lange Kommentar sehen kann, welcher - trotz seiner beachtlichen Länge - aus nur einem einzigen, vielfach mit Kommata unterteilten, Satz besteht, welcher hier sein Ende findet. – FUZxxl Jul 14 '11 at 21:53
Sorry, @FUZxxl, das war sehr leicht zu lesen. – user unknown Jul 15 '11 at 5:01
Just an example of how bad it can be: The novelist Thomas Bernhard was known for writing very, very long sentences in his novel. The first sentence of "Ja" goes on for 2 and a half pages. – Joachim Sauer Jul 15 '11 at 7:56
up vote 11 down vote accepted

You are right. German has a tendency not only to long words, but also to long interlaced sentences. Mark Twain wrote a satirical essay about the German language from a native English point of view (full text). A quote from this essay for an interlaced sentence example:

"The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED."

This is not only limited to scientific texts, it is very common in the entire German literature, including popular novels. It is at least debatable whether very long sentences are good style, but the average German sentence is longer than the average English sentence.

In novels, when sentences get shorter and simpler, this induces tension, while long, complex sentences are used e.g. for rich descriptions of the environment.

In school, I made fun of this by writing an entire essay over almost two pages in exactly two sentences (introduction and main text). The result wasn't too bad ;)

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Hauser asked for evidence - so we have your word? :) – user unknown Jul 15 '11 at 5:06
At least, even long German sentences are shorter than average sentences by Cicero ;) – Residuum Jul 15 '11 at 8:35
@user unknown: Hauser also asked if he has a mis-perception of this phenomenon. The fact that Mark Twain wrote a (well-known) satirical essay about this could be seen as evidence, on the other hand. – OregonGhost Jul 15 '11 at 8:36
Okay, if the average German sentence is longer than the average English sentence, how long are they, on average? I'm sure you know it, if you claim that the German ones are longer. :) And, btw., maybe you or Mark Twain has an alternative of this English text in shorter sentences? – user unknown Aug 7 '15 at 2:10

It wasn't always like this. English sentences in formal writing used to be rather long as well. Consider the first sentence from Washington's Farewell Address 1796:

The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

However, the idea of Plain English had quite an impact. Students of English often get taught the ideas of Plain English. Also, readers are used to clear sentences in formal writing and tend to imitate them when writing themselves. In contrast, the idea of good style in German are different: the plain style is considered dull, and more complex sentence structures are preferred. As an example, I was taught to avoid repetition and to use different verbs for speaking: "sagte", "sprach", "erzählte". Also, my teachers had a preference for indirect speech - I think because it can be toned down and does not sprinkle your sentences with quotation marks. In contrast using only an unmodified "said" with direct speech is encouraged in English.

Another reason why German sentences are longer is, that German words tend to be longer then their equivalent English ones; but I believe that this is secondary.

You can find out more about the differences between German and English writing style at USA Erklärt (German).

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just noticed there is a whole plain english wikipedia! Very interesting thx. From reading technological related english scientific papers i know that there exists a trend to make sentences as short and understandable as possible. Seems to get worse as english spreads more out to asia... – Hauser Jul 15 '11 at 9:48

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