It’s a Crime, But It’s Not a Run-On

Many English instructors (including me!) consider run-on sentences a capital offense. In my view, serious writers are supposed to be able to identify a sentence and end it with a period or a semicolon.

But there’s a lot of confusion about what a run-on sentence is. If you encounter a very long sentence, does that qualify as a run-on? I’ve had students randomly stick a period into the middle of a sentence on the grounds that a) it’s very long, b) it obviously needs a period somewhere. Nope!

So let’s clear this up. A very long sentence is…a very long sentence. It’s not a run-on and it’s not wrong, at least as far as grammar is concerned.

But cramming a bunch of facts into one endless sentence is not good writing. Below is an example from a recent newspaper articleIn October 2018, Jake Patterson kidnapped 13-year-old Jayme Closs. She managed to escape three months later. Here’s the sentence:

Patterson pleaded guilty Wednesday to kidnapping 13-year-old Jayme Closs and killing her parents, in a move that spares the girl held in a remote cabin for three months from the possible trauma of having to testify at his trial.

Whew. There are five important pieces of information here:

  • Patterson pleaded guilty to kidnapping on Wednesday
  • His victim was a thirteen-year-old girl
  • He also killed her parents
  • She was held in a remote cabin for three months
  • The guilty plea will spare her the possible trauma of having to testify at his trial

It’s not a run-on, and you can’t fix it with a period. Start over, and write several sentences instead of one.

Here’s a rule for you: one fact or idea per sentence, please. Your writing will be more readable that way. And there’s a bonus: your writing will be more emphatic. A fact or idea has more impact when in its own sentence.

Kidnapping victim Jayme Close and her captor, Jake Patterson

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2 thoughts on “It’s a Crime, But It’s Not a Run-On

  1. AvatarDarrell Turner

    Another frequent problem that students often have with run-on sentences is that when proofing their work, they realize that there is a problem and think they can solve it by inserting a comma between the two complete thoughts. That only creates another problem, the comma splice. I tell my students that a comma splice can be corrected in three ways: (1) change the comma to a period and start a new sentence with a capital letter; (2) change the comma to a semicolon; or (3) insert a coordinating conjunction such as “and” or “but” after the comma.

  2. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    Great information – thanks! I’m thinking about doing a follow-up post with your name and suggestions. Many writers are going to appreciate these suggestions, Darrell.

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