Dr. Tamara Fudge, Professor School of IT, Kaplan University
One of the most common writing mistakes I see as a professor is the run-on sentence. Before I offer a cure for this malady, I must first confess that I have one of those T-shirts that says, “Let’s Eat Grandma! Let’s Eat, Grandma! Punctuation Saves Lives.” I also have one that says “Grammar Police: To Correct and Serve.” Yes, I’m one of those people.
I also firmly believe in the Oxford comma despite having spent several years of work in the newspaper industry. Let’s just suffice it to say that punctuation is quite an important element in producing satisfactory work.
Run-ons are essentially sentences that are awkwardly stuck together and are missing some of that crucial punctuation, like this one: Several coworkers were stealing supplies from the company they are going to be prosecuted.
This is confusing, as the phrase “the company they” doesn’t make sense. It is also not perfectly clear if the coworkers or the company itself will be prosecuted. There are too many subjects and verbs and completed thoughts, and not enough punctuation to show where one idea ends, and the other begins.
Also, although pauses are not always a reason for punctuation, you might pause after “company” when reading this out loud. All of this is … well, it’s awkward, and it needs a cure.
The good news is that there are actually several cures from which to choose! This means you have the potential for better sentence variety. Five great choices are shown below.
- Divide into two sentences:
- Several coworkers were stealing supplies from the company. They are going to be prosecuted.
- Use a comma followed by a logical coordinating conjunction (for, an, nor, but, or, yet, so) between statements:
- Several coworkers were stealing supplies from the company, so they are going to be prosecuted.
- Use a subordinate conjunction (such as Because, Since, When, etc.) at the beginning, and then a comma between statements:
- Because several coworkers were stealing supplies from the company, they are going to be prosecuted.
- Use a semi-colon between statements:
- Several coworkers were stealing supplies from the company; they are going to be prosecuted.
- If the statements present opposing ideas, use a semicolon + however + a comma:
- Several coworkers were stealing supplies from the company; however, they are not going to be prosecuted.
Please note that a comma splice is similar to a run-on except that instead of lacking punctuation, there is a lonely comma ineffectively separating the statements. Example: Several coworkers were stealing supplies from the company, they are going to be prosecuted. One of the above methods can be employed to correct comma splices, too.
Emergent writers might use run-ons and comma splices because it’s far too easy to write like we speak. Unfortunately, the written word isn’t the same thing as conversation. It doesn’t take non-verbal cues into consideration such as the use of time (those pesky pauses), emphasis (inflection), and so forth. While it can be hard to write formally, there is a cure for writing run-ons!