Friday, January 31, 2014

Run-on Sentences


Okay, it’s time. It’s time to air a pet peeve. And what is it? It’s the run-on sentence. Why is it time to air my complaint? It’s because I find them in books. Novels. Yes, professional publications that people pay money for because they are interested in reading, expecting the writer to be an expert in his or her craft.


I need to take a huge, humble step backward before I continue. I am a writer too—as well as an English major, an English teacher, and a paid editor—and yet, I also am guilty of making mistakes. I paid a proofreader for Skeleton Key a couple of years ago. She was about 100 years old and wrote in a scratchy scrawl that I could barely read, but I had a train wreck as a major part of my plot. Part of the investigation centered on the train’s brakes. The lady made a note that I eventually deciphered to be “I think you spelled brakes wrong.” Well, I pulled out my document and did a word search for breaks and brakes. Of the fifteen uses of the word, I’d spelled it b-r-e-a-k-s seven times. My proofer found it once, but it was enough. I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect others to be perfect. Since, however, grammar and punctuation is part of our writing craft, writers ought to learn what run-on sentences are and learn the myriad ways of fixing them.


One more comment. As an editor, I’m not too bothered with sentence fragments. Often they’re intentional—for emphasis. Often they’re necessary for dialogue to sound natural. I usually leave them as is, but run-ons are simply a matter of punctuation. People don’t speak in run-on sentences because if I were to transcribe their words, I would put in the necessary punctuation. So here is a definition and a quick lesson on how to fix a run-on sentence.




This is the modified, Jeff LaFerney, teacherish definition of a run-on sentence:  Two (or more) complete sentences (independent clauses) that have been joined together without an appropriate conjunction (joining word) and/or an appropriate mark of punctuation.


These are run-on sentences:

1.   Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.

2.   Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles, he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.

A comma does NOT fix a run-on.  So what can be done to fix this silly mistake?


1.   Use a period and a capital letter.  [Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles. He time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.]

2.   Use a semi-colon.  [Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles; he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.]

3.   Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction.  [Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles, so he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] And, but, or, nor, for, yet, and so are coordinating conjunctions.

4.   Use a conjunctive adverb along with a semi-colon and a comma.  [Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles; therefore, he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] Accordingly, also, besides, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, still, subsequently, therefore, and thus are examples of conjunctive adverbs.

5.   Make one of the sentences into a dependent clause (or subordinate clause) using a subordinating conjunction. [Because Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles, he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] You could make either sentence dependent (or subordinate).  [Cole Flint loved to ride on a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle whenever he time traveled to the Smoky Mountains.] You could even change the order of the sentences when you connect them properly. [Cole Flint time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains since he loved to ride on motorcycles.] After, although, as, because, before, if, lest, once, since, though, unless, until, when, whenever, whereas, wherever, and while are examples of subordinating conjunctions.

6.   Use a non-essential clause or an appositive. [Cole Flint, who loved to ride on motorcycles, time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] Or [Cole Flint, a lover of motorcycles, time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.]

7.   Hook the sentences using a gerund phrase (-ing verbal that is used as a noun phrase). [Riding on motorcycles was so much fun that Cole Flint time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] Or [Cole Flint loved time traveling on his Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.]


Before I bore you completely with all the other creative ways I can combine those two sentences, I’ll stop and make my final few points. A good writer needs to have a variety of sentences. Variety in style, length, and verb placement are all ways to make the reading more interesting. Often, therefore, more than one complete thought needs to be joined together. As a writer—an expert at the craft—there are many, many ways to do it without writing a run-on sentence. There are loads of awesome sites to inform you about dependent and independent clauses, conjunctions, semi-colons and commas, and run-on sentences; and writers should make good use of them. A good mechanic knows the parts of an engine and what they do to make the engine run efficiently. A good writer should know his or her craft in the same way. What are the parts and how do they work together to make efficient sentences? Personal pet peeve or not, I believe writers have a responsibility to their readers to produce good writing which surely includes no run-on sentences.

Cole Flint is the main character from Jeff LaFerney's time travel adventure called Jumper.