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PERIODIC SENTENCE, also PERIOD, POINT. In traditional GRAMMAR, RHETORIC, and COMPOSITION, a complete SENTENCE, usually characterized by an intricate relationship among its clauses. It is the classical ‘rounded sentence’, avowedly expressing a complete thought, adopted by writers in the European vernaculars from the prose stylists of Greece and Rome. The subordinate forms in a period are often nested one within the other, like Chinese boxes; in its most complex forms it can be cumbrous and hard to follow. Intricate periods were much used and admired until the late 19c. The following is a typical Augustan period, in which the first who is separated from its verb had by 51 other words:
This discovery was now luckily owing to the presence of Joseph at the opening of the saddlebags; who, having heard his friend say he carried with him nine volumes of sermons, and not being of that sect of philosophers who can reduce all the matter of the world into a nutshell, seeing there was no room for them in the bags, where the parson had said they were deposited, had the curiosity to cry out, ‘Bless me, sir, where are your sermons?’ ( Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews, 1742, italics added).

The period is unusual in present-day English, although it may occur in the language of the law and similar registers. When it occurs, it is usually designed to hold the reader in suspense as to the point being made. In the following, the serial descriptions (‘Never to feel …; never to be able to …; to be aware of …’) are concluded by an assertion (‘whether or not …’) in which the subject and negated verb are postponed to the very end:
Never to feel wholly what you wish to feel—and to wish it all the more intensely for that very reason; never to be able to believe in the veracity of whatever feelings you do have—and to make threatening gestures towards anyone who has his own doubts about them; to be aware of a sickening gap between assertion and inner state every time you open your mouth—not least when you open your mouth precisely to deny that there is such a gap … whether or not it is a crime to feel the ‘throes’ and ‘pangs’ of that kind of insincerity I do not know ( Dan Jacobson, Adult Pleasures, 1988).

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