Don’t write a run-on sentence you have to punctuate it.

"They bobbed on the waves and dreamed about what they would find at the end of the world." From Hopper & Wilson by Maria van Lieshout

“Don’t write a run-on sentence you have to punctuate it.”

Study this sentence carefully. Read it aloud. Do not pause until you reach the period/full stop. Does it communicate clearly without any help from you?

I’ll also be using this sentence as our Feature sentence for this post. We’ll come back to it.

Now, keep reading.

Sentence Structure 101

A Run-on sentence usually have two simple sentences or independent ideas that have been incorrectly combined. Ever met any one who talked so fast they ran words into each other? Like a fast speaker, a run-on sentence runs into another sentence. This can continue for an entire paragraph and essay or report. The writer rambles on and on, unaware that he or she is leaving sense behind.

Let’s quickly review some sentence structure basics.

The basic structure of a Simple Sentence has a Subject, a noun word or phrase that identifies for the reader the doer of an action in the sentence or the WHO or WHAT something is said about in the sentence.

Example 1: The cat sprang.

Subject =The cat

The sentence must also have a Verb for its subject. This either tells an action done by the Subject or asserts a claim or fact made about the SUBJECT.

Verb (expressing what subject does) = sprang.

Example 2: Marjorie seems unassuming.

Notice that the verb ‘seems’ is not expressing an action but is simply make an assertion about the Subject. Verbs have different roles.

A Sentence may or may not have other words called COMPLEMENTS (C), words that give additional information about the subject or verb.

Simple Sentence Patterns

Compare the following Simple sentence patterns:

1) S-V : The dogs barked. Subject =dog; Verb = barked

2) S-V-C: The dogs barked loudly all night. Subject = dog; Verb= barked; Complement = loudly all night

Both sentences, though differing in their sentence patterns, are what we call Clauses. (A clause is a group of words that has a subject and its own verb).

When clauses can stand on their own and make complete sense, we call them Independent Clauses or Simple Sentences.

Clauses that lean

Some clauses cannot stand on their own, however. 

For example:

  1. If we don’t leave now….
  2. because he lives abroad

In fact, the image I get of this kind of clause is that of a leaning plant that needs to be supported by something  stronger in order not to topple.

These, we call Dependent or Subordinate Clauses. They have all the trappings of a clause. But you can’t communicate using them alone.

Can you find the Subject and it’s verb in the examples above?

If you selected ‘ we’ as Subject and ‘don’t leave’ as the verb, you are right on track.

Note however that the n’t in the word don’t is a shortening of the word ‘not’ which is a negative adverb, NOT a verb.

Look out for these in contractions (words which are combined to form one word, such as I’ll = I will, can’t = can not, would’ve = would have etc). The apostrophe is usually an indicator that letters are missing from the newly contracted word. The apostrophe acts as a kind of placeholder for the omitted letters.

So, what is clear is that a group of words can be a clause, but it doesn’t mean all clauses can stand alone and communicate clearly. If ideas are incomplete, you’ll need to add an independent clause to complete the idea you want to convey.

Let’s see how that would work.

If we don’t leave now– Dependent/Subordinate Clause = IDEA INCOMPLETE

My response to you if you said this to me would be ‘Huh?’ What?

If we  don’t leave now, we will be late. Independent clause added = COMPLETE IDEA

Now, we can communicate. What  you are telling me now makes sense.

Punctuate please!

When we combine two independent clauses or simple sentences, we must use punctuation and/or conjunctions to signal that the ideas are independent of each other. When we don’t, we have a run-on sentence. Run-On Sentences Stop readers in their tracks. They confuse. They frustrate. They may turn away your reader. A Run-on sentence, my friend,  is a SENTENCE SIN you ought not to commit. Too many in your writing, and you run the risk of your reader giving up and moving on to writing that communicates. And where does that leave you? With the sound of crickets, cause everyone has left you for greener Sentences.

3 Ways to Fix Run-on Sentences

Here are three main ways to fix Run-on Sentence errors with the structure I’ve discussed above, the two clause sentence. I’m using these abbreviations: IC = Independent Clause, SS = Simple Sentence

1. Use a full stop at the end of the first IC/SS. (Remember to capitalize the initial letter of the word beginning the new sentence that comes after a full stop.)

Let’s practice this with our featured run-on sentence (Revisions are bolded):

  • Don’t write a run-on sentence you have to punctuate it. RUN ON SENTENCE
  • Don’t write a run-on sentence. You have to punctuate it. CORRECT SENTENCE-(RULE 1)

2. Use a semicolon between the two ICs/SS’s. (Do not capitalize the word after the semicolon unless it is ‘I’ or a Proper Noun).


  • Don’t write a run-on sentence you have to punctuate it. RUN ON SENTENCE
  • Don’t write a run-on sentence; you have to punctuate it. (CORRECT SENTENCE- RULE 2)

3. Use a FANBOY (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet) conjunction to join both sentences, but remember to put a comma before the conjunction.

The construction of the featured sentence would be awkward if we tried to apply this rule with it, so I’ll use a different pair of sentences  to demonstrate this rule.

  •  The Prime Minister was censored she refused to resign. RUN ON SENTENCE
  • The Prime Minister was censored, but she refused to resign. CORRECTED SENTENCE- RULE 3

One last thing,

Many people combine two independent clauses using a comma to punctuate their sentences, as seen in these examples.

  • Don’t write a run-on sentence, you have to punctuate it. WRONG
  • Marcus does not own an umbrella, he does not own a rain coat either.  WRONG

Wrong move! This is a SENTENCE SIN we call the COMMA SPLICE.

But we’ll discuss that one in a future post.

Run-on Sentence Challenge !

To check if a group of sentences have run-on sentence errors, try borrowing this useful trick recommended for writers who find it difficult to figure out where one sentence begins and another ends try reading each sentence in this paragraph backwards start reading the last sentence you have written then read the previous one and continue like this when you detect a run on sentence error, use one of the strategies above to fix it can you find the sentences in this run-on paragraph?


Edit and revise the run-on sentences in the Challenge paragraph above to find a proven trick that will help you to never write another run-on sentence again.

Paste your response in the Comments box, along with your comment indicating which part of this lesson is still muddy for you. What do you need more explanation about, or do you fully understand what was described?


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