My Aunt Susan is one of the sweetest people I know. She’s extremely loving, caring, and helpful. However, when she talks, she has a tendency to ramble on and on and on until her listeners can’t take her any more, and they begin to tune her out. When you write, your readers will also begin to tune you out if your sentences run on and on and on. Here’s what you can do to avoid run-on sentences.
First, you need to know the definition of a run-on sentence. Basically, a run-on sentence contains two complete thoughts that are not properly punctuated. Here’s an example: “I have a term paper due next week I’ll never finish it on time.”
This run-on sentence, often called a fused sentence, has two complete thoughts and no punctuation between those thoughts. This example needs the proper punctuation after the word “week” to separate the first complete thought from the second.
When I point out this lack of punctuation, most students suggest a comma, but a comma alone doesn’t solve the problem. Adding only a comma merely creates another type of run-on sentence called a “comma splice.” To properly punctuate the sentence, you may choose one of the following five options. The proper choice will depend on how you view the relationship between the two thoughts.
1. Semicolon — “I have a term paper due next week; I’ll never finish it on time.”
First, you can fix the run-on sentence by placing a semicolon after the word “week.” You should use the semicolon to let the reader know that a subtle connection exists between the two thoughts. A semicolon in this case creates a pensive feel, as if you’re thinking about the possibility of meeting the term-paper deadline. After a bit of thought, however, you realize you’re not going to make it.
2. Semicolon and a Conjunctive Adverb — “I have a term paper due next week; however, I’ll never finish it on time.”
A second option involves a semicolon and a conjunctive adverb. A conjunctive adverb serves as a stronger transition between the two thoughts. The conjunctive adverb “however” gives the reader a more obvious indication that you’re not going to make the deadline even before your second thought expresses it. Other conjunctive adverbs include words such as “accordingly, consequently, incidentally, subsequently, and therefore,” among others.
3. Comma and a Coordinating Conjunction — “I have a term paper due next week, but I’ll never finish it on time.”
The third option uses a comma and a coordinating conjunction. The seven coordinating conjunctions are “for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.” (You may want to use the acronym “FANBOYS” to remember them.) Use this option if you want your thoughts to flow together in a more matter-of-fact way. This option lets your reader know that you’ve already thought about the task and the time remaining, and you’ve concluded that the two will never meet.
4. Period — “I have a term paper due next week. I’ll never finish it on time.”
The fourth option — the period — creates two distinct sentences. This is the proper punctuation if you want to be blunt and emphasize the separation between the two thoughts. In other words, you know there’s no way in the world you’ll ever finish the term paper on schedule.
5. Subordinating Conjunction at the beginning of the sentence and a Comma after the word “week” — “While I have a term paper due next week, I’ll never finish it on time.”
This final option uses the subordinating conjunction “while” to make the first idea less important than the second. In this case, you want to de-emphasize the fact that you have a term paper due and highlight that fact that you won’t be able to complete it on schedule.
When reviewing your essays for run-on sentences, look for individual, complete thoughts. Then, make sure that you don’t have two thoughts running together unless they have the proper punctuation.
My Aunt Susan is almost 70 years old now and has a lot of stories to tell most people don’t want to hear those stories though they can’t wait to get away from her once she gets going.
Can you see now why run-on sentences are so difficult to follow? Don’t let your writing sound like a rambling monologue from Aunt Susan. Make sure you use proper punctuation to separate your ideas.