How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

by Stanley Fish


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061840531
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/07/2012
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 144,627
Product dimensions: 7.80(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: 1270L (what's this?)

About the Author

Stanley Fish is a professor of law at Florida International University in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He has also taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke University. He is the author of fourteen books, most recently Fugitive in Flight and Save the World on Your Own Time. He lives in Andes, New York, and New York City.

What People are Saying About This

Roy Blount Jr.

“Like a long periodic sentence, this book rumbles along, gathers steam, shifts gears, and packs a wallop.”

Maria Popova

“How to Write a Sentence isn’t merely a prescriptive guide to the craft of writing but a rich and layered exploration of language as an evolving cultural organism. It belongs not on the shelf of your home library but in your brain’s most deep-seated amphibian sensemaking underbelly.”

Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

“How to Write a Sentence is a must read for aspiring writers and anyone who wants to deepen their appreciation of literature. If extraordinary sentences are like sports plays, Fish is the Vin Scully of great writing.”

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How to Write a Sentence 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
WTVCrimeDawg More than 1 year ago
The title and first chapter piqued my interest, so I bought the book and spent a weekend studying it from cover to cover. It is an easy read, well written, and full of great sentences. I liked Fish's emphasis on the mastery of a sentence to improve overall writing. First, you master form; then, content. I enjoyed the following chapters: The Subordinating Style, The Additive Style, First Sentences, and Last Sentences. However, the book promises more than it delivers. I felt unsatisfied at the end. Fish's "How to Write a Sentence" is nothing more than a collection of sentences that he likes. He has an affinity for sentence geekery, and this is part of his collection. Overall, there is value in reading the book. I would, however, wait until it goes in the bargain bin before you make the investment, since there are numerous other grammar and style books that will serve you better, including one that Fish critiques: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
Notyoda More than 1 year ago
I found this the best single book on writing I've read. That may be because I didn't treat it as a how-to but used his key sentences as models for myself and wrote pages of sentences for each model. Even made up models of my own to continue. Oddly, my writing improved.
Kooly More than 1 year ago
I expected information on how to write a sentence. All I got was what other people wrote a long-long time ago.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The title belies the content. He should have titled it "I love sentences" or something similar. First, he criticizes traditional teachings of punctuation and grammar, not without some merit. Then he wanders off into LALA land without offering a comprehensible alternative. This is not a book of instruction; it seems to be more musings than anything. I got so bored with it I couldn't finish.
Doug_Pardee More than 1 year ago
Fish writes at length about the joys of sentences that are written at length. He celebrates the writers of times past who would write sentences with word counts in the triple digits, composed of numerous clauses and phrases, sometimes with myriad commas and sometimes with none (Gertrude Stein being a paragon of the latter), and revels in how each clause and phrase and word contributes to the aesthetics and timing and effect of the entirety of the sentence; perhaps you have noticed that this very sentence is an attempt -- if not necessarily a great attempt, as this kind of writing is something I rarely do (or, truth be told, never do) -- at an example of the type of writing which, clearly, Fish adores. I'm from the Strunk & White generation. I like my sentences to be simple and clear. Fish's treatise didn't convince me otherwise, and I don't think it even tried. Those who prefer the prolix style of Henry James will find Fish a kindred spirit, but I'm not sure that they'll really learn much. By the way, this is a fairly short book: 125 pages in NOOKbook form, almost 15 of which are front and back matter.
RandyMetcalfe on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Simply delightful. Stanley Fish appreciates ¿sentences that take your breath away.¿ His enthusiasm is infectious, fuelled by examples drawn from great literature. He makes you want to read each of those works (and countless others) slowly, so that you can savour every last sentence.This is not a manual of style or correct usage; comparisons with Strunk and White are misplaced. There are a few simple exercises suggested, but what Fish is aiming at is not pedagogy, and certainly not pedantry. It is, rather, I think, a genuine wish to encourage readers (and writers) to refocus on the very stuff that makes great literature great: sentences.What are sentences? They are basic building blocks of meaning, an organization of items in the world, a structure of logical relationships. It sounds a bit like the early Wittgenstein re-heated by J.L. Austin. It¿s not. Stanley Fish is an unapologetic child of the New Criticism. His formula ¿ Sentence craft equals sentence comprehension equals sentence appreciation ¿ is nothing less than a justification for steeping oneself in the finest sentences that the history of literature can provide. Which is precisely what he does.
kateking on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Stanley Fish argues that sentences rather than words are the material that writers work with. Piles of words mean nothing until they slide into their ordained places, until they relate to each other in particular and logical ways, until they combine with other words to make meaning. If we want to write well and clearly then he insists we must focus on forms. Fortunately for most younger Australians he doesn't mean old fashioned grammatical forms but a logical sequence of linkages between actor, action and the object of the action.He gives some wonderful examples from the greats of what he calls the subordinating style, the additive style and the satiric style and encourages us to copy them by substituting words that perform the same function within a sentence. His comments on the function and importance of first and final sentences cut straight to the marrow and made me reconsider the economy and efficiency of my leading sentences.In the final pages he turns his attention to the actual content of sentences - and this is where he comes unstuck. In the earlier chapters he uses modern and contemporary examples. The last chapter dwells on examples from centuries well past, alluding to ancient and biblical knowledge and using archaic language that many readers might struggle with.Although I read the early chapters hungrily I became bogged down towards the end and found it difficult to finish. However I have added to my armoury of knowledge about writing and now have a better understanding of how words function within sentences without having to revise all the grammatical jargon of my school days.
Hebephrene on LibraryThing 6 months ago
While the sections on parataxis and hypotaxis (additive and subordinating style respectively) are worth the price of admission, the title is deceptive since Fish is less interested in helping you write better sentences than he is in analyzing those he likes. So the subtile would be more accurate. Nonetheless he is passionate and its infectious and he is a connoisseur . Still readers will be better served checking out Francine Prose's How to Read as a Writer and Virginia Tufte's marvelous Artful Sentences remains the definitive work on sentence components.
Nodosaurus on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Stanley Fish presents the readers with a variety of sentences and an analysis of their content. In each case, he discusses word choice, meanings conveyed, flow, and probably some stuff I¿ve forgotten. His intent is to enable the reader to understand the value in the sentences, recognize different structural forms, and, if not to write better sentences, then to appreciate a well-written sentence.The book has three sections. The first presents key sentences, and he analyzes their form. Then provides new sentences using the same to show their presentation forms and what they convey.The second portion discusses first and last sentences. It discusses how first sentences set the stage for the rest of the story, and how last sentences create (sometimes) closure.The last section lost me a bit. Supposedly it discusses self-referential sentences, but maybe I didn¿t quite get it.Stanley makes very good use of examples from famous pieces of literature. It is an easy read with good information.
ElectricRay on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Now here is a review I'll have to edit carefully. Like a well composed sentence of which he would approve, Stanley Fish's "How to Write a Sentence and How to Read one" has a clear formal structure, and cleaves closely to it. But, also like one of Fish's preferred sentences, it nevertheless rambles on in an unchaperoned fashion: for a short book, it is easy to put down. For all its tight formal structure, it is not clear what Fish wants to achieve, if not simply to put the world to rights. Early on, Fish dismisses Strunk & White's classic The Elements of Style and of the sort of economical writing that volume encourages. He claims Strunk & White is only of any use to those who already know not just how to write, but what devilishly complicated things like adjectives and independent clauses are. But hold on: Are the parts of speech really that intimidating? Certainly no more intimidating than Fish's own vocabulary: to avoid them, Fish suggests the reader practice identifying the logiical relationships that constitute (or are constituted by) sentences by picking four or five items from around the room and joining them with "a verb or a modal auxiliary"! The irony runs on: The back half of the book extols sentences, itself in sentences, that no-one without a passion for a well-placed subjunctive would have a hope of comprehending. All the same this is no technical manual. In his first half Fish airily proposes some formal sentence structures types and counsels the reader to practise them. There are just three, and they seem arbitrary: the "subordinating style", where descriptive clauses refine and further describe an initial proposition (often sentences with "which" or "that" in them - "the bed that you make is the one you have to lie in"); the "additive style", where each additional clause augments the content to preceding ones (so, "the fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, the furrow followed free"); and the "satyric" style, which doesn't seem to be a formal sentence structure at all, but Fish's own prescription for being witty. I'm not sure why these would be the fundaments of any linguistic structure, other than because Fish says so, nor what to do about sentences, like this one, that attempt to do all three. Nor that there aren't perfectly well sentences that do none. (Most of James Ellroy's never get that far, for example). Talk of James Ellroy reminds me: what Fish's prescription, contra Strunk, White and Ellroy's (now There would be a fine book on style!) encourages verbosity. Fish loves long, wordy, flowery writing: he's a lawyer, after all. He devotes he second half of his book to a canter through his favourite sentences from literature. Most, to my eyes, could have been improved with a full stop or two and hearty use of a red pen, and all seemed selected as much to burnish the author's own intellectual credentials as anything else. Fish believes that Strunk & White's preference for concision is a modern error that robs the language of richness and diversity. Now, granted, I don't always practice what I preach, but I profoundly disagree: It is easy (as Fish demonstrates, using his subordinate and additive templates) to write infinitely long sentences. All you need is to be bothered enough to do so. It is harder to write short ones. It is much harder to write good short ones. Elongating a sentence for the sake of it is a charlatan's ruse. It appeals only to the pretentious and those who charge by the hour, as lawyers do. The real challenge, as far as I can see, is importing all that richness and complexity as economically as possible. Thus I can't recommend this book based on its billing. If you do want to learn, simply, how to write and read a sentence, then - well, try Strunk & White. If you like the idiosyncratic peregrinations of a bon vivant law and literature professor, perhaps this is your book.
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Steve1469 More than 1 year ago
Having written a few pieces, I'm often on the lookout for ways to improve. So this seemed to be a natural. I was disappointed. Rather than "How to write a sentence" a better title would be "Sentences I have liked." I found it a bit pompous. The initial promise wasn't borne out in later chapters. After reading the book, I've stopped reading his columns in the New York Times. I think I'll stick with Strunk and White for instruction.
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