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Run-On Sentences

Sentence MechanicsTOPICS ON THIS PAGE


POP QUIZ

What's NOT a Run-On Sentence?

  1. I don't follow politics very closely I especially don't trust many of the claims campaigning politicians make.
  2. When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
  3. In modern day society, human beings these days express many different interests in many different types of activities, such as working, watching TV, cooking, or dancing, and one of these activities that is very interesting is traveling, which can take them to a variety of destinations to sightsee and experience so many different forms of cultures and societies that differ from their own.
  4. I took a political science class last fall, it taught me about several different types of government, however, we closely examined how democracy and capitalism are sometimes at war with each other in the administration of government in the U.S.

RAMBLING OR RUN-ON: AREN'T THEY THE SAME THING?

Long is Not Wrong

Students unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the concept of Run-On sentences will sometimes mistake any long sentence for an error of grammar or sentence structure. However, sentence length has nothing to do with whether or not a sentence is right or wrong. The following, for instance (#2 in the Pop Quiz above), is the preamble to the U.S.Constitution:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

It may, at first, seem like a big, long compound sentence, but in truth it contains only one independent clause: "respect . . . requires that." The rest of the sentence contains one subordinate clause beginning with the word "When"; one noun clause beginning with the words "they should declare"; several infinitive phrases; and, lots of prepositional phrases. In short, this example is a pretty basic complex sentence. It's only difference from most is that it's long and involved. Involved and complex ideas require an involved and complex sentence structure to contain them. That's why complex and compound-complex sentences exist. Never assume that a long sentence is incorrectly written until you examine the actual grammar of it.

Ramblin' Prose

The other mistake students frequently make is in confusing a rambling sentence with a Run-On sentence. A lot of sloppily written explanations on-line add to the confusion. While it is possible for a rambling sentence to be a Run-On sentence as well, these are distinctly different issues. "Rambling" is always a matter of composition, while "Run-On" is, without exception, an error of grammar. "Rambling" is sometimes open to interpretation, while "Run-On" is not. The following is a rambling sentence, but its grammar is beyond reproach:

I was relieved the professor didn't drop me from the class when I was late, but I was surprised how many people were still trying to add the class because, even though I hadn't yet purchased my textbooks and was waiting for my paycheck to come in at the end of the month, so many other students were just lazy and didn't register early enough, or at least that's my opinion, but in some cases students find out that they don't like the section they registered for, so they try to get into other classes, but they discover that they're already filled up, so, when I register for a class, I try my best to stay in it and learn to like it, even when I sometimes show up late or without my books, which may someday get me in trouble.

This meandering sentence belies a wandering mind, not a poor command of grammar. Every subordinating and coordinating conjunction in it is where it's supposed to be. The issue is merely one of style: we don't like compound-complex sentences to be this compounded. There are seven independent clauses conjoined in the sentence, and within those are subordinate clauses and even noun clauses. On top of everything, the sentence takes you on a circular journey: it ends where it starts, on the matter of showing up late, but it strikes out on a number of tangents in the middle. This is what teachers mean by "convoluted" writing: writing that twists and tangles, and as a result becomes awkward in content (but not necessarily awkward in grammar).


RUNNING-ON

A sentence that runs on does so by running together two or more independent clauses without proper coordination. To put it succinctly, a Run-On sentence is a failed Compound Sentence because it's missing an important part of speech and/or its corresponding punctuation. There are three types of Run-On sentences.

A Fused Sentence

two or more independent clauses strung together without a comma and a coordinating conjunction.

A Comma-Splice Sentence

two or more main clauses strung together WITH a comma, but WITHOUT a coordinating conjunction. 

A Grammatically Entangled Run-On Sentence

two or more main clauses sharing one or more parts of speech.


Fused and Comma-Spliced Sentences

Editing Marks and Notations
|| (two vertical lines, side-by-side, not to be confused with the parallelism mark, "//") fused
c.s. (comma spliced); c.f. (comma fault)
R-O

For Grammatically Entangled Run-Ons
syntax
awk
mixed constr. (mixed)

Correction Method: Untangle
When a sentence "doubles-up" the grammatical role of a word or phrase, it causes grammatical entanglement, which is the most awkward variety of Run-On sentence. Use one of the following techniques to untangle this grammatical "knot":

  • Repeat the errant part of speech and make two separate sentences
  • Convert and add parts of speech, and make a complex sentence.
  • Recast the sentence by changing and reorganizing.

Examples

On Monday, I left extra early to cash the check at the bank was closed for a federal holiday.

Run-On A

Correction Method: Separation or Coordination
Use one of the following techniques to fix the Run-On while keeping both clauses independent:

  • Period + New Sentence
  • Semi-Colon + Conjunctive
  • Adverb Comma + Coordinating Conjunction

Examples

My grandfather always wears a suit and tie on election day however he doesn't always cast a ballot.
My grandfather always wears a suit and tie on election day, however he doesn't always cast a ballot.

Run-On B

Using Semi-Colons
Because semi-colons can be substituted for coordinating conjunctions and their commas, they are yet another possible solution to the problem of run-on sentences. (More information about semi-colons can be found in "Internal Punctuation.") Because they're punctuation, rather than a part of speech, you wouldn't put them on a sentence diagram any sooner than you would put a period or a comma. However, the function of a semi- colon would still be represented on a diagram by the same vertical dashed line used for a coordinating (or correlative) conjunction, just without any word attached to it. Semi-colons should be used sparingly; however, if you are new to them, or you're not well practiced with them, here are a few helpful rules:

a. A semi-colon can be used to conjoin a minimum of two independent clauses:

Many believe the color green to be a primary color; this is a mistaken assumption.

b. Semi-colons aren't used with coordinating conjunctions; if you want to use a coord. conj., change the semi-colon to a comma instead:

Many believe the color green to be a primary color, but this is a mistaken assumption.

c. Frequently, semi-colons are followed by a conjunctive adverb:

Many believe the color green to be a primary color; however, this is a mistaken assumption.

Correction Method: Subordination
Use one of the following techniques to make one clause dependent, while keeping the other independent:

  • Comma + Subordinating Conjunction
  • Comma + Relative Pronoun

Examples

Our economy will improve one day, therefore that should now make us frugal and optimistic.

Run-On C

Correction Method: Recast
When a Run-On sentence is also convoluted or awkward, start over by recasting the sentence using the following techniques:

  • Reorganize
  • Change language and parts of speech.

Examples

We have tried discipline and tough love, regardless, nothing worked, now we'll try patience and understanding.

Run-On D


Answers to pop quiz above

  1. Yes. This is a fused sentence.
  2. No. This is a complex sentence.
  3. No. This is a rambling and wordy sentence.
  4. Yes. This is a comma spliced sentence.
Last Updated: 03/14/2016
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