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Runs on and on and on and

Updated on December 21, 2013

Okay, kids. Today we're going to talk about run-on sentences. What is wrong with this sentence?

I needed to buy a bottle of suntan lotion I went to the store I put it on me not the store I put the suntan lotion on me.

If you think this sentence is correct, you will make me cry. Please keep reading if this is you. Well, I know "this" is not you, so let me rephrase. If you write in this manner, stop immediately. I mean it. Put down the cell phone and read on.

Periods are beautiful things. Semicolons used correctly make me happy. Commas are not the end of the world. Trust me. They have not yet killed me.

Sentences have three main elements; yes, they do! A sentence contains a subject (Most of the time the subject performs the action, but exceptions to that rule are later.), a verb (an action, most of the time - man, no wonder English is difficult.), and a complete idea. Failure to meet all three qualities is called a fragment, but again, that is a whole other (never use the word 'nother') issue. Generally speaking, when a subject gets changed or the same subject does something unrelated to the first idea, some type of punctuation is needed!

Let's look at this catastrophe of a "sentence" again.

I needed to buy a bottle of suntan lotion I went to the store I put it on me not the store I put the suntan lotion on me.

Notice how the "I" of the sentence has three tasks: (1) needs to buy something (2) goes somewhere (3) puts something on - possibly the store. Because the subject is changing an action (thinking is an action!), the reader needs to visually see that. This can be changed simply to:

I needed to buy a bottle of suntan lotion. I went to the store. I put it on me. Not the store - I put the suntan lotion on me.

Okay, the ending is silly and makes a weird point about modifiers, but I need to be in the right mood to talk about them. Let's ignore the ending for the rest of this lesson. Extra credit for anyone still paying attention.

I needed to buy a bottle of suntan lotion I went to the store I put it on me

Does it make you itch yet?

Semicolons (these things  ;   You use them all the time when you make a wink face ;). Just don't put in the paranthesis.... Semicolons are a style choice most of the time. They are used to connect two related sentences. The key here, of course, is that both sides of it have to be full sentences and must be related. Let me do some editing here to make this easier because I cannot justify any of those phrases truly being related.

I needed to buy suntan lotion I plan to go swimming I burn like a chicken being cooked in the microwave (True story - I'll tell you about it someday.)

The first two thoughts can be connected.

I needed to buy suntan lotion; I plan to go swimming.

Even stronger... I needed to buy suntan lotion; I burn like....

Did you see the semicolon? It's almost as fun as finding Waldo. Both sides of the semicolon can stand on their own (subject, verb, complete idea) and are related. This doesn't use a semicolon correctly:

The sun makes me tired; I wish I had ice cream.

They are not related, but they are both true.

Now the dreaded comma. Give me a minute.


Commas are far too complex to delve into in this one hub. I will start with FANBOYS. That acronym stands for For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. These are coordinating conjections (When you're done here, go to YouTube and type in "Conjunction Junction" immediately.) The idea here is to connect two independent sentences that have a relationship to one another. Okay, I'm going to cheat now and copy some notes from a course I teach.

I was thinking of another chapter. This is the chapter where I have students make up their own examples. (I was thinking of either/or, neither/nor, not/but, both/and.) Let's just do a simple one. The word "and" should never begin a sentence unless you are some pretentious writer. The word simply joins two ideas.

I went swimming the sun made me tired.

Two things happened here: "I" went swimming, but I didn't make myself tired. I'm blaming the sun. "The sun" made me tired. We have two different subjects here. So, to correct this, throw in a comma here (not just when it looks like too many words without one or when you breathe) and add the word 'and' before continuing your thought.

I went swimming, and the sun made me tired. (Okay, being in the sun made me tired, but you get the point, right?)

I could go on but I really want ice cream unfortunately I don't have any here and I'm already in my pajamas so I don't want to get dressed to go get ice cream and I don't really have the money to buy ice cream anyway.

I will do my best to not go back and edit that.


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    • profile image

      rorshak sobchak 5 years ago

      Nice hub. I am an adult and still suffer from run-ons. Your hub was useful. Thank you!

    • TheWhisper profile image

      TheWhisper 5 years ago from Macomb,MI

      Very helpful hub. I also write hubs about writing techniques and tips. Check them out! :)

      Follow Me?

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      What a fun hub! I enjoyed English language all through school. The correct usage of words, construction of sentences and accurate punctuation were, to me, as logical as calculus is to the mathematician. (Advanced math, alas, was never logical to my brain.) I parsed sentences with a fervor echoed today in the mania young people have for video games.

      I paid so much attention to the use of language throughout elementary and high school that, when I enrolled in college, taking the CLEP exams allowed me to bypass English Composition I and II courses.

      I said all that to say this: I have a long list of "pet peeves" related to writing, and run-on sentences is near the top. No punctuation or incorrect punctuation jump out at me from print, whether it's on paper on on-screen. A comma splice is abhorrent. A semi-colon placed where it should not be bothers me inordinately. Capital letters used indiscriminately drive me up the wall!

      You have an excuse: you're a teacher! My only reason is that I love the language and want to see it preserved.

      I deplore the addition of "slanguage" words to English dictionaries on the grounds that repeated usage renders them legitimate. A recent news article about hip-hop slang being included in a revised Scrabble Dictionary dismayed me.

      I could go on and on, but won't. Perhaps I've given you ideas for more articles related to appropriate grammar use. I look forward to reading them.


    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      Hmmmm. I'm pretty sure I might need to go back over my hubs to redo some of the sentences I put into them that might not be written just right according to this information you wrote here. And, yes, even I know that's a bad sentence. ;)

      All pretension aside, thanks much.

    • wendi_w profile image

      wendi_w 5 years ago from Midwest

      Fantastic hub. As a college student a few years, okay, decades out of high school, I am having a very hard times with proper sentence structure. Most of the information regarding proper grammar reads like stereo instructions or would bore anyone not employed as an English teacher to tears. It was my intention to attempt to write a few hubs regarding this for myself. I find writing hubs regarding a matter I am trying to learn helps me to set the subject in my mind. Your hub was so well written and interesting, however I believe I will abandon that project and simply read yours.Thank you so much for your complete and interesting account of this subject. I will be watching for more.

    • profile image

      Yanitza 3 years ago

      A very interesting, and fun way to understand punctuations.

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