Attempt, if you dare, to read the following paragraph:

Have you ever been told that you need to edit your writing to eliminate run-on sentences this is likely because your lack of punctuation is making it difficult to disentangle your thoughts perhaps, however, you are using punctuation ineffectively, and sentences that seem complete are actually a series of ideas with no apparent breaks in between?

If you had trouble reading the paragraph, it’s likely because it’s a run-on sentence!

What is a run-on sentence?

A run-on is a sentence that doesn’t contain appropriate punctuation to separate ideas. Sometimes this lack of punctuation is just inconvenient for the reader; other times it can lead to confusion! It is important to recognize run-ons so that you can fix them and promote the best possible experience for your readers.

There are two kinds of run-ons to look for: fused sentences and comma splices.

What is a fused sentence?

A fused sentence occurs when two or more main clauses are connected with no punctuation. A main clause is a complete sentence that can stand on its own, so when you connect two main clauses without punctuation — or fuse them together — you make the reader’s job more difficult.

For example:

Edgar doesn’t usually eat meat he finds it difficult to maintain his vegetarianism during holiday meals.

There are two main clauses in this sentence:

  1. Edgar doesn’t usually eat meat
  2. he finds it difficult to maintain his vegetarianism during holiday meals

Notice how there is no punctuation between these ideas. This makes the ideas feel smushed together, and it’s hard to read.

How do we fix a fused sentence? There are four strategies you can employ to correct this mistake.

Strategies for Fixing Run-On Sentences

  1. Period + Capital Letter
  2. Comma + Coordinating Conjunction
  3. Semicolon
  4. Subordinating Conjunction (example subordinating conjunctions)

Let’s see what our fused sentence would look like with each strategy:


Period + Capital Letter

Edgar doesn’t usually eat meat. He finds it difficult to maintain his vegetarianism during holiday meals.

This option separates the main clauses into two distinct sentences.


Comma + Coordinating Conjunction

Edgar doesn’t usually eat meat, but he finds it difficult to maintain his vegetarianism during holiday meals.

You can remember your coordinating conjunctions with the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). Notice that by adding a FANBOY, the writer indicates a relationship of contrast between the idea in the first main clause and the idea in the second main clause.


Semicolon

Edgar doesn’t usually eat meat; he finds it difficult to maintain his vegetarianism during holiday meals.

Many people feel uncomfortable using semicolons, but you can proceed with confidence if you remember that semicolons can connect two related clauses. Here the semicolon tells the reader that the second main clause has information that builds on the information in the first main clause.


Subordinating Conjunction

Edgar doesn’t usually eat meat though he finds it difficult to maintain his vegetarianism during holiday meals.

Like option 2, adding a subordinating conjunction indicates the relationship between the ideas in each of the clauses. By adding the subordinating conjunction though, the writer indicates a relationship of contrast. Subordinating conjunctions tend to indicate stronger, more specific relationships between ideas than the FANBOYS.


You can use the same strategies to fix comma splices.

What is a comma splice?

A comma splice is a run-on sentence that connects two or more main clauses with a comma. A comma is not a strong enough piece of punctuation to hold two sentences together.

Example:

My favorite dessert to bake for the family is pecan pie, it requires the least effort to make of all the pies.

This sentence has two main clauses:

  1. My favorite dessert to bake for the family is pecan pie
  2. it requires the least effort to make of all the pies

A comma cannot do the heavy lifting required to tie these clauses together. We need stronger punctuation to fix this run-on. Let’s apply the same four strategies from above to fix the sentence:


Period + Capital Letter

My favorite dessert to bake for the family is pecan pie. It requires the least effort to make of all the pies.


Comma + Coordinating Conjunction

My favorite dessert to bake for the family is pecan pie, for it requires the least effort to make of all the pies.


Semicolon

My favorite dessert to bake for the family is pecan pie; it requires the least effort to make of all the pies.


Subordinating Conjunction

My favorite dessert to bake for the family is pecan pie because it requires the least effort to make of all the pies.


Now that we’ve covered types of run-ons and strategies to fix them, see if you can identify which of the following sentences are run-ons and which are complete sentences. Then apply one of the four strategies to correct each of the run-ons you find.

Practice

  1. The platypus is at once aquatic and terrestrial, it can inhabit the water and the land!
  2. One of the contestants on Shark Tank proposed a brand of vegan dog food the investors were skeptical that any dogs would actually like it.
  3. Cow milk is used to make many food items; my favorites are heavy cream, butter, and cheese.
  4. Although Will gave the race his all, he didn’t stand a chance against the Olympic runners.
  5. Boggle is a far superior game to Scrabble, I don’t trust anyone who thinks differently.

Take me to the answers! (bottom of page)


Want more practice identifying and fixing comma splices? Check out the Super ELA! YouTube video which includes examples and practice exercises.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRKyhoQADbw

Quiz Time!

Ready to test your skills at identifying run-on sentences? Check out the comma splice quiz and the run-on sentences quiz.


Practice Answers

See the following answers with suggested corrections.

  1. Comma Splice — The platypus is at once aquatic and terrestrial. It can inhabit the water and the land!
  2. Fused Sentence — One of the contestants on Shark Tank proposed a brand of vegan dog food, but the investors were skeptical that any dogs would actually like it.
  3. Complete Sentence
  4. Complete Sentence — The first clause (Although Will gave the race his all) is a subordinate clause which needs to be connected to a main clause in order to stand alone as a complete sentence.
  5. Comma SpliceBoggle is a far superior game to Scrabble; I don’t trust anyone who thinks differently.

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