At one point or another, everyone has fallen victim to the run-on sentence. This error is one that creeps its way into our work and masquerades itself as a complete sentence.
A lot of writers have trouble with run-on sentences—especially those freshly learning English. Students have a particularly hard time with run-ons—and needlessly so. Run-ons are actually quite easy to avoid if you take to the time to read your sentences carefully.
Today, I want to discuss five easy ways to correct run-on sentences in your writing.
What is a Run-on?
First off, what exactly is a run-on sentence? There are different kinds of run-on sentences, but at its most basic level, a run-on sentence is two independent clauses that are placed together without a joining word or without any punctuation. Below is a classic example of a run-on.
- The game hasn’t started, we don’t want to be late.
This run-on is two independent clauses joined solely by a comma. This kind of run-on is commonly called a comma splice. Now, let’s look at a few different ways we can fix sentences like this one.
We know that in order to qualify as a run-on sentence, two independent clauses must be joined together. Since we know both clauses are independent, we know they are capable of standing on their own—independently. So the first solution would be to split the example into two sentences.
- The game hasn’t started. We don’t want to be late.
A comma can join clauses together, but in order for it to join independent clauses, there needs to be a coordinating conjunction involved. The second solution to correct the example run-on is to join the two clauses with a comma and a coordinating conjunction.
- The game hasn’t started, but we don’t want to be late.
Solution three is somewhere in the middle of solutions one and two. It creates a little more space in between the two clauses than solution two, but it creates a little less space than solution one. The third way to eliminate a run-on sentence is to join both clauses by a semicolon.
- The game hasn’t started; we don’t want to be late.
You want to be careful when using semicolons because they aren’t always the best fit for a sentence. Many style guides advise the use of them sparingly.
Solution four also uses a semicolon but in a different way than solution three. In solution four, you join both clauses with a semicolon and a connector with a comma (but not a coordinating conjunction).
- The game hasn’t started; however, we don’t want to be late.
A fifth solution is to subordinate one of the clauses. This basically means you will be taking one of the independent clauses and turning it into a dependent clause.
- Although the game hasn’t started, we don’t want to be late.
This is probably the most technical method, but it also the most natural sounding. Solution five is how most people would speak these two thoughts. Solution two is also quite common.
As you can see, run-on sentences are nothing to be afraid of—no matter what your reading or writing levels may be. If you take the time to carefully read through your sentences, these mistakes are easy to spot, and, as demonstrated above, they are easy to fix as well.
So next time you are sure how to correct a run-on in your student’s work, just remember these five easy solutions.
To see a more complete list of common writing mistakes, please check out my e-book 35 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Writing, and to familiarize yourself with other grammatical terms and concepts, visit the Grammar Dictionary section of WritingExplained.org.