Grammy, What’s a Run-On
A run-on sentence is one that’s too boring and long to hold a reader’s interest.
Okay, I’m lying. I like to lie, but since this is an article about grammar and not my child asking what’s for dinner, I’ll restrain myself. “A sentence more than two lines long” seems to be the popular definition of run-on sentence, if I go by the ones that got “marked” on my contest entries back in the day. The fact is, run-on sentence is a grammatical term which means, and I quote, a sentence that “has at least two parts, either one of which can stand by itself (in other words, two independent clauses), but the two parts have been smooshed together instead of being properly connected.” (http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/runons.htm).
And even as this Web site comments, size doesn’t matter. It’s how you use your commas that counts.
A run-on sentence is typically the victim of a comma splice, a comma used between two complete sentences instead of a conjunction, period or semicolon. Of course, comma splice is another one of those misused grammatical terms; I’ve seen “comma splice” marked beside a variety of commas, many of which did not fit the above description.
Sandee felt a sense of anticipation trickle through her when the handsome man asked her to remove her clothing, with a wink and a smile he dashed off to prepare for their encounter himself.
That comma after clothing? A comma splice, because it splices together two independent clauses like Scotch tape connecting electrical wires — it won’t suffice, my friends. Bryan A. Garner, who penned The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style, claims that run-ons occur when a writer isn’t sure how to handle various marks of punctuation or adverbs like however and otherwise — often treated as conjunctions (Page 291). I already did an article that covered the FAN BOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), and you’ll note that those words aren’t in the acronym.
So you will see a lot of sentences like:
Once Sandee had slipped into something more comfortable, she perched on the edge of the chair to await his return, however, she began to feel ill-used when his absence grew into more than a few minutes.
The comma after return? A comma splice. Some grammarians, as Garner mentions, distinguish between run-ons without punctuation (the fused sentence) and comma splices, since in some instances comma splices are acceptable, or at least not heinous, e.g. when both independent clauses are very short and very casual.
He doesn’t actually like me, he’s ignoring me.
And here’s a fused sentence:
He had gotten her naked and left her she sure hoped this wasn’t his idea of a joke or, worse, a reality television skit — get a woman naked and see how long she’ll wait for you.
In case you’re confused by this example, there should be a period or semicolon after left her.
So how can you fix a comma splice or a fused sentence? There are four obvious ways. One, the two complete sentences method, beginning with a comma splice:
Sandee thought about going after Mr. I’m So Handsome I Can Make Women Wait Until I’m Good And Ready to demand that he return, she instead decided to give him just a few more minutes to make good on the promise that had twinkled in his dark eyes.
Sandee thought about going after Mr. I’m So Handsome I Can Make Women Wait Until I’m Good And Ready to demand that he return. She instead decided to give him just a few more minutes to make good on the promise that had twinkled in his dark eyes.
Second, the FANBOYS conjunction method, beginning with a fused sentence:
As if summoned by her ire, Mr. I’m So Handsome strode into the room he quickly evidenced his appreciation for her state of undress.
As if summoned by her ire, Mr. I’m So Handsome strode into the room, and he quickly evidenced his appreciation for her state of undress.
Third, the semicolon method, which should not be overused because, though it’s grammatically proper, the semicolon in some publishing houses is considered a hallmark of formal or academic writing and not so much genre fiction. I don’t really care myself; I like semicolons. But it’s true that they’re often over or improperly used, sort of like thong underpants. Regardless, a repair of a run-on using a semicolon would be:
Forgiving the delay and flushed with rising excitement, Sandee complied with his wishes, however, she uttered a startled shriek when the hands he placed on her pert bosom were ice cold.
Forgiving the delay and flushed with rising excitement, Sandee complied with his wishes; however, she uttered a startled shriek when the hands he placed on her pert bosom were ice cold.
The semicolon does seem to fall into place naturally when you use a conjunctive adverb at the beginning of the second sentence like however, also, anyhow, consequently, hence, incidentally, meanwhile, nevertheless, still, then and therefore or a transitional phrase like after all, as a result, by the way, even so, for example, in other words, on the contrary and on the other hand. I would avoid semicolons in dialogue, unless your speaker is a stuffy, educated type.
The last way to fix your run-on is make one of your independent clauses subordinate to the other. Note that this has nothing to do with bondage erotica:
His touch quickly heated against her skin, he moved between her bare thighs for the next phase of the process.
As his touch quickly heated against her skin, he moved between her bare thighs for the next phase of the process.
I turned the first sentence into a dependent clause, an adverbial clause modifying “moved”. In fact, I imagined that the hand-heating and the shifting to the thigh area happened simultaneously.
One last example of a comma splice and I’ll let you chew on the gristle of my article for a while. As it says in my trusty Harbrace, “Do not let a divided quotation trick you into making a comma splice.” (41). For, you know, divided quotations are the very devil and their goal in life
is to make their authors look the fool.
“Yes, Mrs. Kowalski, you’re pregnant,” the doctor said, after completing the exam, “that’s why your breasts are sore and you’ve been puking every morning.”
To repair, the easiest thing to do is to switch your punctuation to a period, though Mrs. Kowalski’s not going to have to worry about those for another nine months!
“Yes, Mrs. Kowalski, you’re pregnant,” the doctor said, after completing the exam. “That’s why your breasts are sore and you’ve been puking every morning.”
Now you may go. I release you, secure in the knowledge you’ll never just mark people’s sentences in contest entries as run-on simply because they’re long and dull. Instead, I suggest you mark them as run-off-at-the-mouth sentences.