Run-ons. What even?

I think that the most puzzling issue for writers is how to know when to end a sentence. Run-on sentences are easy to write, especially if you’re in a first draft, or you’re not sure exactly how to punctuate with confidence.

So what is a run-on sentence? It’s too many ideas into one space. Punctuation symbols act as messages to the brain; each symbols helps us do something different when we read. We pause to process information. We stop to understand information in context. We process questions, exclamations, lists. Punctuation is what helps us to fully understand the information that we read. Punctuation breaks up information in a way that isn’t overwhelming or hard to process. Thank goodness for punctuation!

Some authors avoid punctuation as a form of expression again cultural rules or norms. Even then, they rely on our knowledge of punctuation to make their point, and it’s really engaging reading books or text without punctuation. You really have to pay attention to the words and the clues in the writing. But for the majority of writers, punctuation is essential for communicating a clear and concise message (often, depending on the type of text, with little room for interpretation). I believe this (as in the approachability of a text with proper punctuation) is why some folks struggle to read, choose, understand, or appreciate poetry. Poetry does not include a lot of punctuation and asks the reader to do a lot of the processing through word choices.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

So how does all of this connect to run-on sentences? It’s important to know how to properly punctuate a sentence in order to allow the reader to fully understand and get what is being said. Too many run-ons sentences and you start to lose the reader; they can’t process the information fully and can’t make the connections between ideas because the information is jammed together. We like order and we like snippets. So that’s why it’s important to know what run-on sentences are, and more importantly, how to fix them.

A run-on sentence is when two independent, or complete, sentences are put together without proper punctuation. It could be two ideas connected somehow, but the sentences are mushed together (which causes the brain to get confused and not process the information properly). Often times, people try to use a comma to connect two sentences together, yet the comma isn’t strong enough to do that work.

So what do they look like and how do you fix them?

  • Add a period between ideas. This method is the simplest for fixing run-on sentences. For example, Making meals ahead of time saves a lot of frustration, make-ahead meals are super helpful for teachers during report card writing season. becomes Making meals ahead of time save a lot of frustration. Make-ahead meals are super helpful for teachers during report card writing season.
  • Include a semicolon to connect related ideas to continue on with the thought. For example, The addition of jazz into the Classical cannon has created a lot of waves, jazz requires a similar, yet more complex type of musical knowledge. becomes The addition of jazz into the Classical cannon has created a lot of waves; jazz requires a similar, yet more complex type of musical knowledge.
  • Use a comma AND a coordinating conjunction to show a small break or pause in the idea. For example, Waiting in the hospital emergency room can be a test of patience for patients, it also requires compassion and understanding for others. becomes Waiting in the hospital emergency room can be a test of patience for patients, and it also requires compassion and understanding for others.

Knowing how to properly punctuation sentences that continue an idea is very empowering; it allows writers the opportunity to develop an idea with more information for the reader. And really, once you get the hang of using these variety of sentence connectors, it becomes fun to add variety into your writing.

But what about run-on sentences for effect? Well, yah! Authors sometimes use run-on sentences in their novels to add to the voice of a character. Most times the author will purposefully include run-ons in dialogue or inner monologues to show ideas bleeding together, often for effect. So clearly the rules are there to help add clarity for the brain as we read, yet creatively including run-on sentences can be a great way to show a character’s personality. My advice: don’t over do it.

So now you have the tools needed to avoid confusion in your writing. Properly punctuated sentences are satisfying to read, but even more satisfying to write. Break things up. Let the brain catch up. And use the rules to add to your overall writing personality. Happy writing!

Feature Image: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash