'Run-ons' - Comma splices and fused sentences - and how to correct them



In this article, I want to teach you about a particular kind of error in writing –

the run-on sentence.


Look at this recent Facebook post.


Hi I really need some help with my pool I’ve been you tubing but it’s not working and I I’m not physically able to keep trying, I can’t work out how to vacuum it so any recommendations for a pool person or anyone willing to come and show me how to set it up please I am happy to pay for assistance.


You will notice that it seems to be one long sentence that runs on and on without stopping. There are several complete sentences, but they are not joined correctly.


These are called ‘run-on’ sentences and both kinds appear in the example above.


There are two kinds of ‘run-on’ sentences and they are:


1. fused sentences – there are no punctuation marks that mark the breaks between ideas.


For example:


“I can’t work out how to vacuum it so any recommendations for a pool person or anyone willing to come and show me how to set it up please I am happy to pay for assistance.”


2. comma splice – two complete ideas are joined incorrectly by a comma.


For example:


“… I really need some help with my pool I’ve been you tubing but it’s not working and I’m not physically able to keep trying, I can’t work out how to vacuum it so…..”


Here is another example:

The Empire State Building is in New York City, it used to be one of the world’s tallest buildings.



How to correct run-ons?


There are four ways to correct both fused sentences and comma splices.

I will use the last example above to demonstrate each of the four ways to correct it.


1. Make two separate sentences by adding ending punctuation such as a full stop/period.

Other ending punctuation might be an exclamation mark or a question mark.


The Empire State Building is in New York City. It used to be one of the world’s tallest buildings.


2. Add a semicolon ( ; )


The Empire State Building is in New York City; it used to be one of the world’s tallest buildings.



3. Add a coordinating conjunction such as and, for, nor, or, but, so, or yet.


The Empire State Building is in New York City and it used to be one of the world’s tallest buildings.

(Note that not all coordinating conjunctions can be used; it depends on the context. ‘And’ seems to be the only one able to be used here to correct the error.)


4. Add a subordinating conjunction such as because, although, before, when, while, after, or since.


None of these, however, can be used to correct our example sentence. That is OK because the other three can.

So, let me give you another example sentence where adding a subordinating conjunction CAN be used.


Bill Gates was a poor university student, he went on to become one of the richest men in the world.


Note: If you were to type this in MS Word, you will see that a double blue line will appear under ‘student’. If you right click the program will suggest a semi-colon. But we want to use a subordinating conjunction instead.


Bill Gates was a poor university student before he went on to become one of the richest men in the world.


Bill Gates was a poor university student after which he went on to become one of the richest men in the world. (But that meant adding which to after; after cannot be used on its own here).


So, you can see that not all subordinating conjunctions can be used to correct the sentence, only in some certain contexts. It means that you need to know the meanings of each of the conjunctions to use them correctly.


Transitional expressions and semicolons


A final way to correct run-ons is to join sentences with a transitional expression by placing a semicolon before the expression and placing a comma after it.


Take this sentence for example. It is wrong. It has a comma splice.


The construction costs were too high, the family abandoned plans to build their new house.


And now, corrected:


The construction costs were too high; therefore, the family abandoned plans to build their new house.


Now, let us go back to that problematic Facebook post.


Hi I really need some help with my pool I’ve been you tubing but it’s not working and I’m not physically able to keep trying, I can’t work out how to vacuum it so any recommendations for a pool person or anyone willing to come and show me how to set it up please I am happy to pay for assistance.


And corrected:


Hi. I really need some help with my pool. I’ve been you tubing but it’s not working and I’m not physically able to keep trying. I can’t work out how to vacuum it, so any recommendations for a pool person or anyone willing to come and show me how to set it up please. I am happy to pay for assistance.


This passage did not need very much to correct it. The main errors were not ending sentences with full stops and there was just one comma splice.


Check List


Finally, a word or two when you are editing your writing (as the Facebook writer might have done before posting). My advice is to ask yourself these questions: Are my sentences correctly formed and punctuated? Have I written any sentences with fused sentences or comma splices – any ‘run-ons’?


Conclusion


I hope you have enjoyed this article and have learned something about ‘run-on’ sentences and how to correct them to improve your writing.

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