I love eating spaghetti, and I know many of my students love spaghetti too. How do I know? They like to make spaghetti sentences when writing. These are sentences that go on and on and on until it becomes very difficult to follow the logic or to understand the main point. Just like a bowl of spaghetti that has many intertwining strings, a spaghetti sentence has too many different kinds of phrases and clauses.
Often these sentences are grammatically correct, but to determine the correctness and the main point, it takes a few minutes to check if all of the many phrases and clauses fit correctly. What invariably happens is that the spaghetti sentence (also called “run-on sentence”) becomes structurally broken; something is missing or incorrectly placed making the output or the main message inaccurate, ambiguous, not understandable, or illogical.
The following is a typical example:
"Decisions that impact the profitability of a company in regards to trading with other countries from around the world should be unique reflecting nations` environments and conditions and require their own decision."
To fix this kind of writing, some tips are listed below:
1.Find the core elements of the sentence, the main subject and the main verb, to see if the sentence is structurally sound.
2.Count the number of words in the sentence and make sure it is not over 25 or 30 words. More specifically, count the number of conjunctions, words that join two sentences such as "and", "or", "because", etc., used in the sentence. If you have more than two or three of these in the sentence, you are asking for trouble.
3.Try to limit the number of relative, noun, and adverbial clauses in the sentence. In short, minimize the number of "mini-sentences" within the sentence.
For example, "The book on the table that was given to me by my father when he was working as an account executive in the firm that recently went bankrupt even though they received investment advice from a banker who seemed nice enough... ." can go on and on as long as you like, even before you get to the main verb in the sentence! You can clearly see that just because you can nest many clauses within clauses doesn`t mean that you should do it. Try restricting yourself to a maximum of three or four clauses.
We can apply these rules to discover the real meaning of the typical example sentence given earlier.
"Decisions" is the subject of the sentence; "should be" is the verb.
We have too many "and" words. It`s confusing. In "... reflecting nations` environments and conditions and require...", the first "and" joins two nouns: "environments and conditions". This is okay. The 2nd "and" introduces the 2nd independent clause of the sentence: "...and require their own decision." Note that the subject of the verb "require" is missing, but that is okay because the implied (not written) subject is the main subject "Decisions", a compound subject.
The remaining parts of the sentence, “... that impact the profitability of a company…”, "in regards to trading with other countries from around the world", and "reflecting nations` environments and conditions" are modifiers.
So, now let`s reconstruct the core elements of the sentence to see what we have:
"Decisions… should be unique… and require their own decision."
Now, put in the implied subject from the start of the sentence into the 2nd clause after the "and":
"Decisions… should be unique…, and decisions require their own decision."
You can see clearly that this 2nd clause is illogical: "..., and decisions require their own decision."
Be careful when you think you are being expressive by writing long spaghetti sentences; you`ll only get heartburn!
John Mukts （ILC企業研修主任）
日本での英語教授歴20年以上、数々の企業にてビジネスパーソンやグローバルリーダー向け英語研修を担当。ILCの主任教師としてプレゼンテーション・ミーティングなどのビジネスに焦点をおいたGLLT（Global Leadership Language Training)コース開発やオリジナルテキスト開発に従事。