Running On About Run-Ons

running guy

Updated May 25, 2012.

Teachers: Hand out these befores.

Everyone else: Skip these befores as soon as they bore you.

Before: I didn’t plan to write about run-on sentences, a much-hyped book by a respected author shocked me into it, run-on sentences, the kind formed by comma splices, litter the pages, it ain’t pretty.

After: I didn’t plan to write about run-on sentences[.] A much-hyped book by a respected author shocked me into it[.] Run-on sentences, the kind formed by comma splices, litter the pages[;] it ain’t pretty.

Before: Think punctuation doesn’t affect your bottom line? Ask Amazon, Leo Frishberg, a user-experience pro says that Amazon tests their web pages to compare the effects of sentence-level differences a semicolon vs. a period for example on usability Amazon not only cares about getting the punctuation correct but also measures (read invests money to determine) which of various correct possibilities elicits a better response, powerful testimony![1]

After: Think punctuation doesn’t affect your bottom line? Ask Amazon[.] Leo Frishberg, a user-experience pro[,] says that Amazon tests their web pages to compare the effects of sentence-level differences[—]a semicolon vs. a period[,] for example[—]on usability[.] Amazon not only cares about getting the punctuation correct but also measures (read invests money to determine) which of various correct possibilities elicits a better response[.] Powerful testimony!

Before:  A comma splice is a comma between independent clauses, the comma joins (splices) the clauses together into a run-on sentence, comma splices work well for short independent clauses, as in I came, I saw, I hopped the bus home, otherwise, comma splices make reading a chore.

After: A comma splice is a comma between independent clauses[.] The comma joins (splices) the clauses together into a run-on sentence[.] Comma splices work well for short independent clauses, as in I came, I saw, I hopped the bus home[.] Otherwise, comma splices make reading a chore.

Before: Some run-on perpetrators dispense with the comma splice altogether they fuse independent clauses together without a wisp of punctuation to give readers a clue one clause merges into the next buffered by nothing but a space some writers use this kind of run-on sentence (a fused sentence) to advantage if you know what you’re doing you can too but unless you’re after a breathless quality or a stream-of-consciousness effect don’t fuse your sentences punctuate them.

After: Some run-on perpetrators dispense with the comma splice altogether[.] They fuse independent clauses together without a wisp of punctuation to give readers a clue[;] one clause merges into the next[,] buffered by nothing but a space[.] Some writers use this kind of run-on sentence (a fused sentence) to advantage[.] If you know what you’re doing[,] you can too[.] But unless you’re after a breathless quality or a stream-of-consciousness effect[,] don’t fuse your sentences[]punctuate them.

Before: In short, avoid joining independent clauses with either commas or spaces, this is an independent clause this is too each independent clause has a subject and a verb and forms a complete thought.

After: In short, avoid joining independent clauses with either commas or spaces[.] This is an independent clause[.] This is too[.] Each independent clause has a subject and a verb and forms a complete thought.

Before: Luckily, you can fix a run-on sentence, whether it’s spliced or fused, in lots of ways. Sure, you can insert a strong separator (a period, a semicolon, a colon, or a dash depending on the relationship between the two independent clauses) you don’t have to limit yourself to punctuation changes. Get a little wild! Slip in an occasional coordinating conjunction (like but or and) coupled with a comma you’ll win readers’ hearts every time.

After: Luckily, you can fix a run-on sentence, whether it’s spliced or fused, in lots of ways. Sure, you can insert a strong separator (a period, a semicolon, a colon, or a dash depending on the relationship between the two independent clauses)[, but] you don’t have to limit yourself to punctuation marks alone. Get a little wild! Slip in an occasional coordinating conjunction (like but or and) coupled with a comma [, and] you’ll win readers’ hearts every time.

Before: You can also fix run-on sentences by subordinating one of the clauses. In other words, use a subordinating conjunction (like because) to turn one of the independent clauses into a dependent clause, exposing a logical relationship. Of course, you can’t use this technique to fix every run-on sentence that kind of logical relationship doesn’t always exist.

After: You can also fix run-on sentences by subordinating one of the clauses. In other words, use a subordinating conjunction (like because) to turn one of the independent clauses into a dependent clause, exposing a logical relationship. Of course, you can’t use this technique to fix every run-on sentence [because] that kind of logical relationship doesn’t always exist.

Before: You might wonder how to determine the best fix for a run-on sentence consider two things the way the parts of the sentence relate to each other and the “tone and rhythm” that fit your context you might want to rewrite the whole thing.[2]

After: You might wonder how to determine the best fix for a run-on sentence[.] Consider two things[:] the way the parts of the sentence relate to each other and the “tone and rhythm” that fit your context[.] You might want to rewrite the whole thing.

Before: If you struggle with run-on sentences, and even if you don’t, I recommend Lynne Truss’s delectable Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which includes joyful explorations of raucously conflicting expert opinions on such prickly subjects as the future of the semicolon as the author herself says, “You know those self-help books that give you permission to love yourself? This one gives you permission to love punctuation.”[3]

After: Read Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

I could run on and on about punctuation a person could find worse things to love.

—-

[1] Leo Frishberg, “Pillars of the Community: Technical Communication in Service of User Experience (UX) Architecture,” May 24, 2012, presentation for a meeting of the Willamette Valley Chapter, Society for Technical Communication.

[2] Mignon Fogarty,“What Are Run-On Sentences?Grammar Girl blog, August 26, 2010, http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/run-on-sentences.aspx.

[3] Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, illustr. Pat Byrnes (New York: Gotham Books / Penguin, 2008 based on the 2003 British edition), 40.

2 thoughts on “Running On About Run-Ons

  1. I will be forwarding your post to my daughter. We just (Oh, I shouldn’t use that word either ;)) had a conversation about writing skills, of which we both feel we don’t possess. I fill lots of sentences with comma mainly for pause effect. It hadn’t occur to me to use semi-colons instead. I thought semi-colons were for “lists”. After all that, i think I do love punctuation! (it’s a rule thing)

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