The 5 Best Sentences in the English Language

It’s amazing what you can do with a well-crafted sentence. And, in his new book, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, literary critic Stanley Fish offers his list of the five most beautiful or arresting sentences in the English language.

Obviously there will be considerable debate as to whether these are in fact that 5 best sentences ever written in English – that’s quite the impressive claim! Nonetheless, I found his selections intriguing.

If you’d like to see a little explanation for why Fish selected each of these sentence, check out this Slate.com article.

Otherwise, here are the 5 sentences:

  • “Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began crying after him to return, but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! Life! eternal life.” John Bunyan (The Pilgrim’s Progress, 1678)
  • “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how  much it altered her appearance for the worse.”  Jonathan Swift (A Tale of a Tub, 1704)
  • “To such a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, of such moments gone by, what is real in our lives fines itself down.” Walter Pater (The Renaissance, 1873)
  • “And I shall go on talking in a low voice while the sea sounds in the distance and overhead the great black flood of wind polishes the bright stars.” Ford Madox Ford (The Good Soldier, 1915)
  • “When I first began writing I felt that writing should go on I still do feel that it should go on but when I first began writing I was completely possessed by the necessity that writing should go on and if writing should go on what had commas and semi-colons to do with it what had commas to do with it what had periods to do with it what had small letters and capitals to do with writing going on which was at the time the most profound need I had in connection with writing.” Gertrude Stein (Lectures in America, 1935)

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on February 4, 2011, in Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. After reading just the first two I am ready to get this book!

  2. I am not usually impressed by grammar related materials but this looks pretty interesting. I really enjoyed his selections and remember the first selection though I’ve not read any of the others.

  3. There’s something wrong with the idea of reading a book to learn how to read. Hmm…

  4. I’ve really been wanting to read this book. I heard him discussing it recently on Al Mohler’s podcast and it sounded really interesting.

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