Periodic Sentence

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Related to Periodic Sentence: loose sentence, Cumulative sentence
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Periodic Sentence


in rhetoric, an extended complex sentence marked by the full development of an idea and finality of intonation. The idea is fully developed in subordinate clauses that completely illuminate the main clause, answering the questions Who? What? Where? By what means? Why? How? and When? The finality of intonation is achieved by delaying to the very end the completion of the syntactic construction that opens the periodic sentence, with all other dependent clauses and phrases set into this frame. This intensifies the expectation of the completing end of the sentence.

The length of a periodic sentence does not exceed the capacity of a single breath. The melody of the voice separates the sentence into a rising part, the protasis, and a falling part, the apodosis.

Pauses divide the sentence into several cola, usually not more than four.

Periodic constructions in speech usually develop when a national literary language is becoming established. This was the case in the fourth century B.C. in Greece, the 17th century in France, and the 18th century in Russia.

The opening of Cicero’s oration Pro Archia (Defense of Archias) provides an example of a periodic sentence: “If I have, gentlemen of the jury, any natural ability (and I am aware how insignificant it is), or if I have any practical facility of speech (and I do not deny that I have some experience in this area), or if I have any theoretical knowledge of rhetoric because of an interest in the more refined subjects of study and by virtue of my training (and I confess that at no point in my life has this knowledge proved hateful to me), perhaps my client Aulus Licinius has as much right as anyone—a natural right—to demand of me the fruit of all this.”


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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The loose sentence is impeccably legal, but in technical writing, which has more and more need to be persuasive, we may have more and more cause for using the periodic sentence, with emphasis at the end.
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Often the convoluted syntax, the numerous neologisms, the breathlessly sprinting periodic sentences piled with modifiers require many rereadings for the sense underneath the sound.
It is, rather, a stunning display of the luxuriant open-endedness of the essay, the work of a masterful stylist who lays down long, carefully unspooling periodic sentences that seem to have been born whole.
Macierowski's translation casts very well the complicated periodic sentences of the French original.
To quote The Oxford Companion to the English Language (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1992), until the 19th century, paragraphs tended to comprise long periodic sentences, one sentence sometimes taking up a whole paragraph.