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How to fix run-on sentences
Author : Catie Holdridge
Posted : 24 / 01 / 12
‘Run-on sentences’ may sound like a newspaper headline announcing that sentences are flying off the shelves. In fact, they are a product of the grammatically incorrect practice of running complete ideas into each other. Observe:
I rock she rolls.
As you can see, a run-on sentence isn’t necessarily long. When we say ‘complete ideas’ (of which this example has two), what we mean is independent clauses.
An independent clause (as well as being a term for when Santa’s kids fly the nest) is a part of a sentence that contains a verb and a subject and makes sense by itself – otherwise known as a simple sentence. In the example above, there are two subjects (or ‘doers’): I and she. And each subject has its own verb: rock and rolls respectively. Here’s another:
I like to throw my shapes in the middle of the dance floor Caroline busts her moves in the corner.
So how do you fix these sentences? It may be tempting to just throw a comma in the middle (I rock, she rolls), but this is still not correct – it’s known as a comma splice. The comma can do many things, but don’t ask it to support the weight of two (or more) independent clauses by itself.
There are other options available, though. Which one you pick depends on the gist of your sentence.
A simple solution is the good ol’ full stop:
I like to throw my shapes in the middle of the dance floor. Caroline busts her moves in the corner.
Perfectly grammatical, and often the best option. But if you want to show how the two clauses are related, or you find a full stop too abrupt, you may prefer one of the other methods.
A great way to suggest a connection between the clauses is by using a semicolon. Many people have a deep-seated suspicion of the semicolon, but it’s very useful here. Unlike the divisive full stop, the semicolon allows the parts to stay snuggled together in one sentence. In this way, they can stand in for conjunctions.
I like to throw my shapes in the middle of the dance floor; Caroline busts her moves in the corner.
If you want to make the relationship between the clauses explicit (and keep your sentence grammatically correct), add a coordinating conjunction (joining word) such as for, and, nor, but, or, yet, or so to the comma splice. The conjunction you choose can give quite different meanings to the final sentence. Look at the difference between
I like to throw my shapes in the middle of the dance floor, but Caroline busts her moves in the corner.
I like to throw my shapes in the middle of the dance floor, so Caroline busts her moves in the corner.
In the first version, it would merely appear that Caroline and I have contrasting preferences on where we get our groove on. But in the second it seems that my shape-throwing drives Caroline to the corner (probably out of embarrassment).
Don’t let the meaning of your sentences – or your grammar-usage credibility – run away. Use these techniques to keep a tight grip on the reins of your writing, so you always guide your reader in the right direction.
Catie joined Emphasis with an English literature and creative writing degree and a keen interest in what makes language work. Having researched, written, commissioned and edited dozens of articles for the Emphasis blog, she now knows more about the intricacies of effective professional writing than she ever thought possible.
She produced and co-wrote our online training programme, The Complete Business Writer, and these days oversees all the Emphasis marketing efforts. And she keeps office repartee at a suitably literary level.
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