Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Makes a Sentence a Run-On?


We've already spoken of fragments. The next offender is the run-on sentence. These are the sentences that don't quit. The author, apparently, had no idea how to contain these suckers and kept adding onto them, rather than curtailing the culprits and putting a leash on them, she kept adding commas and conjunctions until the sentence was, surprisingly, a paragraph long. That, my friends, is a run-on
Run-on sentences come in a variety of guises. Above, my sentence is pretty obviously a run-on. What makes a run-on sentence? It is characterized by having more than one subject and verb pair. Though compound sentences are acceptable, run-ons should be corrected.
Let's look at my sample sentence again:
The author, apparently, had no idea how to contain these suckers and kept adding onto them, rather than curtailing the culprits and putting a leash on them, she kept adding commas and conjunctions until the sentence was, surprisingly, a paragraph long.
You probably can't see the commas I've highlighted, but they are problematic just as the conjunctions are. Run-ons are often easier to fix than fragments. As you're dealing with a bunch of sentences, you whack them apart, add periods and you're done.
The author, apparently, had no idea how to contain these suckers. She kept adding onto them. She didn't curtail the culprits and put a leash on them. She kept adding commas and conjunctions until the sentence was, surprisingly, a paragraph long.
The final sentence is a bit long, but it's not a run-on like the rest.
To test for run-ons in your writing. Read it aloud. Do you have time to stop and take a breath? If not, it's probably a run-on.
There are different types of run-on sentences. Wikipedia and other internet sites can give you a full-on grammatical explanation for them. The explanations are so confusing, even I, an English teacher, have trouble with them. There's a time for technical and a time for simple. I like simple.
If a sentence has two subject and verb pairs, it might be a run-on. Look carefully. If it has a proper conjunction (see link below for common conjunctions) it is probably a compound sentence. However, if you see three or more subject & verb pairs, you've got a run-on.
Let's examine our sample sentence again. See if you can find the subject and verb pairs. Keep in mind, the subject and verb won't always be right next to each other. Also, given the way it's written, the subject may be implied.

The author, apparently, had no idea how to contain these suckers and kept adding onto them, rather than curtailing the culprits and putting a leash on them, she kept adding commas and conjunctions until the sentence was, surprisingly, a paragraph long.


Find them?
The author, apparently, had no idea how to contain these suckers and (She) kept adding onto them, rather than curtailing the culprits and putting a leash on them, she kept adding commas and conjunctions until the sentence was, surprisingly, a paragraph long.

Did you find them all? Did I miss any? I could have, it's been a long time since I did this. Even if you don't see all of your pairs right away, recognizing that the sentence goes on too long, is a useful skill. Read your work aloud as part of your editing process. It's amazing what you catch when you do that. Your mind processes the information differently and errors you'd miss just reading through, hop out at you when you hear them.
Also keep in mind—just because a sentence is long, that doesn't mean it's a run-on. A prime example is in the prior paragraph. Can you spot it? It's a long one and seems like it might be a run-on.


Give up?
Even if you don't see all of your pairs right away, recognizing that the sentence goes on too long, is a useful skill.

No one is saying you must write in short, choppy sentences. That can provide its own set of unique problems that I won't go into here. Instead, I'm suggesting that you keep an eye on your writing. Watch for run-ons and fragments so you can make your work the best it can be.


© Dellani Oakes


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