⭑⭑ (2/5 see book reviews)

Annie Dillard in The Writing Life tells the story of a university student who asked if they could become a writer — a well-known writer responded, “do you like sentences?”

Three sentence summary

How to Write a Sentence is a book about sentence appreciation. The first part of the book contains great sentences, pulls their components apart, and examines what makes them exceptional – it seems like a book filled with deliberate practice exercises for the budding writer.

From there, the book wears on a scattershot – hit and miss – by the end we’re talking about famous “Last Sentences” in books and movies (including, bizarrely, the film “Some Like It Hot”) – it turns out last sentences have nothing in common and are not very interesting as a topic – this book felt like a very short interesting book made into a longer (but still short) uninteresting book.


Despite the title, the book is about sentence appreciation and not sentence writing.

I powered through the book, propelled by the early chapter’s linguistic fun:

  • Looking at anaphora in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail
  • Exploring form independent from content in Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky
  • Noam Chomsky’s, “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” vs “furiously sleep ideas green colorless” as an example of grammatical vs semantic correctness

I also found some enjoyment in the chapter on first sentences – a LitHub article I recently read about the same topic covers all the same content.

Location 362 of the Kindle edition contains the errata:

“you have write about something” is the usual commonplace

– Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence

  • Title: How to Write a Sentence
  • Author: Stanley Fish
  • Pages: 176
  • Format: EBook
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN: 006184053X
  • Genre: Writing