It’s been my experience that when people see a very long sentence they immediately decide it’s a run-0n. In fact, you can have one sentence comprising thousands of words (even though no one would possibly want this), and it would not be a run-on, as long as it was structured correctly.
A run-on is a complete sentence, no matter how long or short, that is joined to another complete sentence by two different means:
- Jim is tall his brother is shorter. Here you have two complete sentences that have nothing to join them. This is the classic run-on.
- Jim is tall, his brother is shorter. Here the two sentences are joined by a comma, making what is known as a comma splice, another form of a run-on.
It’s easy to fix run-ons.
- You can put a period between the two sentences: Jim is tall. His brother is shorter. With very short sentences like these, using a period may seem a bit simplistic, but it’s not wrong.
- You can also use a semicolon between the two sentences, assuming they are closely related in subject matter: Jim is tall; his brother is shorter.
- You can add a connecting word: Jim is tall although his brother is shorter.
We most often write run-ons when we’re in a hurry. If we don’t take time to proofread (audibly—quietly so you can hear your own voice—and slowly), chances are we won’t catch them. But our readers may, and it’s best not to let that happen. It may not be fair, but we are often judged by our writing.
Here’s a sentence like one I used to use in my corporate writing seminars. See if you think the given pronouns are correct:
She and I approve of Martin traveling with them and we.
Did you find any problems? It’s easy to evaluate if you take it one at a time, pronoun by pronoun.
She approves…. So far, so good, right?
I approve…. OK by me. You too?
I approve of Martin traveling with them…. Also fine.
I approve of Martin traveling with we. Ouch.
You can hear that you need us for the final pronoun. (Us is the object of the preposition with. Prepositions are always followed by nouns or object pronouns.) Other than that one change, the rest of the sentence was grammatically correct. So even when a sentence seems overly complicated, if you take it one little piece at a time, you should be able to sort it out and make sure it’s right.
A friend who took my writing seminar several years ago sent me a link to these dishes today. Of course I chortled with delight, wishing I had a whole set of dishes with grammar rules imprinted on them. (Of course, my guests would probably lose their appetite if confronted with these at the dinner table. But I LOVE them!)
A dear friend recently gave me four tiny books, all written between 1915 and 1923, all having to do with English: Better Say; Faulty Diction; S.O.S. Slips of Speech; and Mend Your Speech.
My husband and I are both language nerds (that’s a good thing) and have both enjoyed dipping into these four little gems and reading examples to each other. (Aren’t we a fun couple?) To my surprise, many of the rules we use today were valid almost 100 years ago. All languages change over time because of common usage but not as quickly as most of us probably imagine.
On the other hand, one of the books devotes a lot of space to making the distinctions among the following words: abrasion, cut, gash, graze, incision, scrape, scratch and wound. I do hope you have not been using gash for cut!
I’ll be dipping into these four books from time to time to bring you rules of yesteryear that may or may not still be applicable today.
Of course, I have no idea why you can’t see all four books. But you get an idea of what they look like.
The verbs most often misused are those being used as the past participle. All that means is the verb used with has, had, have, will have, etc.
Listen and you’ll hear “I have went,” “She has ate,” “We have drank,” and “He has swam.”
Here is a list of verbs you need to use when you use those HAVE verb forms:
COME (Not “I have came”!)
GONE (Not “We have went”!)
SWUM (Trust me on this: It’s “She has swum the English Channel.”)