By Allison VanNest of Grammarly.com
What are run-on sentences? Contrary to popular belief, they’re not just really, really long sentences. Run-on sentences are actually two independent clauses (i.e. complete thoughts with a subject and predicate) that have been fused together without the correct punctuation.
A run-on can be as simple as: “I like piña coladas I like long walks on the beach.” Now, most of us would look at that sentence and immediately see that something is wrong. For many writers, there’s a temptation to fix the problem with a comma. However, this is still a run-on sentence: “I like piña coladas, I like long walks on the beach.” Now it’s what’s known as a comma splice.
To fix the issue, you have five options: a period, a semicolon, a semicolon plus a conjunctive adverb, a comma with a coordinating conjunction, and dropping the second subject. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
- The simplest fix is to split the fused sentences in two: “I like piña coladas. I like long walks on the beach.” This solution is easy, but it’s also not very nuanced. When you separate the run-on into two separate sentences, there’s no obvious relationship between the two.
- The next fix keeps the two independent clauses linked by using a semicolon: “I like piña coladas; I like long walks on the beach.” Now the reader knows that the two ideas are related to each other somehow. Often, this will be enough to convey the point you want to get across. If not, there’s always our next fix.
- The third option is to use a semicolon and a conjunctive adverb: “I like piña coladas; furthermore, I like long walks on the beach.” Note that a comma follows the conjunctive adverb. There’s a huge variety of choices such as however, also, therefore, hence, instead, indeed. This construction tends to read as a little formal or old-fashioned, so option four may prove to be the best choice.
- The fourth fix is to use a comma and coordinating conjunction: “I like piña coladas, and I like long walks on the beach.”There are seven coordinating conjunctions, which you can remember using the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). Each one shows a different relationship between the two independent clauses such as comparing or contrasting.
- The fifth option is to ditch the subject in the second clause: “I like piña coladas and long walks on the beach.” Note that this only works when the subject in both independent clauses is the same.
Which fix you choose depends on your writing style, the tone and audience of your project, and a host of other factors. Some writers favor semicolons, while others prefer commas and conjunctions. According to Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty, “How you fix a run-on sentence depends on how the different parts are related to each other and what tone and rhythm you are trying to achieve.”
Here’s another example of the same run-on sentences corrected in five different ways. Notice how the meaning changes in subtle ways depending on which fix is used.
Wrong: She got a job, she moved to Vancouver.
Fix #1: She got a job. She moved to Vancouver.
Fix #2: She got a job; she moved to Vancouver.
Fix #3: She got a job; therefore, she moved to Vancouver.
Fix #4: She got a job, so she moved to Vancouver.
Fix #5: She got a job and moved to Vancouver.
As a writer, you know that grammar and spelling matters.
About the Author: A self-proclaimed word nerd, Allison VanNest works with Grammarly to help perfect written English. Connect with Allie, the Grammarly team, and more than ONE MILLION Grammarly Facebook fans at www.facebook.com/grammarly.