Mastering Grammar: Tackling the Challenge of Run-On Sentences

Tackling the Challenge of Run-On Sentences

Key Takeaways

  • Run-on sentences can muddle your message.
  • Two distinct thoughts without proper separation signify a run-on.
  • Semicolons, periods, and conjunctions with commas can correct run-ons.
  • Software tools such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid help identify run-ons.
  • Run-on sentences can be used intentionally in literature for stylistic effects.

From misplacing modifiers to confusing “their,” “there,” and “they’re,” the English language is riddled with pitfalls waiting to trip up even the most vigilant writer. While some errors might slide by unnoticed, others have a knack for muddling messages, leaving readers lost in a maze of words. Among the most notorious of these errors is the run-on sentence. 

What’s a Run-On Sentence?

At first, the term “run-on sentence” might sound like a sentence that’s simply too long. But length isn’t the core issue. What matters is how you construct the sentence and how ideas are connected — or, more accurately, disconnected.

A run-on sentence occurs when two or more independent clauses (thoughts that can stand alone as separate sentences) join without appropriate punctuation or a coordinating conjunction and comma. 

Identifying Run-On Sentences

Two common types of run-on sentences include fused sentences and comma splices. A fused sentence occurs when you combine two independent clauses without punctuation or connecting words. 

Example: “She was hungry she ordered pizza.”

A comma splice happens when two independent clauses are linked by only a comma, which isn’t enough to provide a proper break. 

Example: “I love reading novels, they transport me to another world.” 

The Problems With Run-On Sentences

Run-on sentences are the party crashers of the grammar world. They barge in uninvited and disrupt your narrative flow. They muddle the message and make it difficult for eager readers to follow.

Common Triggers for Run-Ons

Run-on sentences often rear their messy heads when writers are overly enthusiastic, trying to convey a rush of ideas without pausing for breath or, in literary terms, without proper punctuation. Another culprit is the mistaken belief that short sentences are choppy, leading some to cram too much into a single sentence in pursuit of flow. Lack of understanding about the proper use of punctuation, especially commas and semicolons, also plays a role. 

Correcting Run-On Sentences

You can correct run-on sentences with a few grammatical strategies:

  • Periods: The most straightforward way to correct a run-on is to break it into separate sentences using periods. Take “She loves chocolate it’s her favorite snack.” It can be corrected as: “She loves chocolate. It’s her favorite snack.”
  • Semicolons: Semicolons serve as a soft break, connecting two related thoughts:  “I wanted to join the gym; I didn’t have enough money.” 
  • Conjunctions: Coordinating conjunctions are invaluable when indicating a specific relationship between ideas. Just remember to precede them with a comma. For instance, “I love the rain, but I forgot my umbrella.” 

Tools and Strategies for Prevention

Catching and correcting run-on sentences is a skill that can be honed with time and practice. Here are some tips to help you self-review and avoid these grammatical culprits:

  • Read aloud: Sometimes, the ear can catch what the eye misses. Reading your work aloud lets you hear the natural pauses in sentences and discover where run-ons may exist.
  • Look for clues: Look for spots where two independent ideas are presented. You might have a run-on if there’s no proper punctuation or conjunction between them.

Several software tools and platforms can help identify run-on sentences:

  • Grammarly
  • ProWritingAid
  • Microsoft Editor 

The Subtle Art of Sentence Joining

Advanced punctuation, such as em dashes and semicolons, provides writers with nuanced ways to weave sentences together, giving prose a richer texture.

The semicolon, a mark often seen as sophisticated in its application, connects closely related independent clauses; it functions as a soft bridge between thoughts that could stand alone as sentences but share a thematic bond.

Example: “The sun set behind the mountains; a deep crimson hue painted the sky.” 

The em dash offers a dramatic pause and is often used for emphasis or clarification. 

Example: “The door creaked open slowly — she held her breath, not knowing what she might find inside.”

Run-On Sentences in Literature and Style

Authors in literature may intentionally use run-on sentences as a stylistic choice to achieve specific literary effects. Here are a few scenarios where run-ons might be deliberate:

  • Stream of consciousness: James Joyce’s Ulysses contains run-ons to create a sense of immediacy and intimacy with the character’s thoughts.
  • Rhythmic flow: In On the Road, Jack Kerouac uses long, flowing sentences to mirror the frenetic pace of the narrative.
  • Emotional intensity: Run-ons can convey a sense of emotional intensity, as seen in the works of authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. 

Some authors manage to construct entire novels without a single period. The Other Name, one of three volumes in Jon Fosse’s Septology, is one drawn-out narrative. Despite the occasional question mark or comma, the entire volume evades periods — even within the dialogue. 

Closing the Book on Run-Ons: A Clearer Path Ahead

Remember, mastering the art of clear writing takes time, but it’s worth it. Keep polishing your grammar, get cozy with punctuation, and fine-tune your sentence structure. By doing this, you boost the quality of your writing and allow your message to shine through. Get more tips on proofreading, or find out how Crowd Content can help you with your editing needs.

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Rick Leach, the Vice President of Content Operations at Crowd Content, is a seasoned professional in orchestrating large-scale content initiatives. At the helm of a dynamic team of content managers, QA specialists, and production assistants, he oversees the team’s production of high-quality content for businesses around the globe. Rick's expertise extends beyond operations management to providing strategic insights on scaling and producing outstanding content, making him a respected voice in the content creation industry.

Rick's journey in the content industry is preceded by more than five years as an Advertising Sales Manager at The Tampa Tribune, where he refined his skills in media sales and advertising. And his entrepreneurial spirit is evident in his successful 17-year venture as the proprietor of an e-commerce business.

On a personal front, Rick's life is as fulfilling as his professional endeavors. A proud U.S. Navy veteran, he enjoys a blissful family life, married with four children and a grandchild. Originally from New England but now residing on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Rick is an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.

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