Run-On Sentences And How To Fix Them

Aisha was really hungry someone ate her last slice of pizza.

Does something look off about that sentence to you? Well, besides the fact that our friend, Aisha, here is without her pizza?

It’s a run-on sentence.

Run-on sentences feel like several ideas have been smushed together. That makes the idea they are trying to convey confusing and unclear.

Identifying and correcting run-on sentences will help make your writing the best it can be—and good writing, grounded in sound grammar, will improve your communication in school, at work, and in life overall.

It’s time to run those awkward, rambly run-on sentences right off the page. And Thesaurus.com will show you how. (We can’t promise you pizza, though.)

What is a run-on sentence?

A run-on sentence, or run-on for short, is a written sequence of two or more main clauses that are not separated by a period or semicolon or joined by a conjunction. (A main clause can stand alone as a sentence. A main clause is also known as an independent clause.)

Let’s apply this definition to an example:

 

  • I need to give my cat a bath she really doesn’t like taking them.

There are two main clauses:

 

  • I need to give my cat a bath
  • she really doesn’t like taking them

In our example, the first clause is immediately followed by the second one, but there is no period, semicolon, or conjunction to indicate the relationship between these two clauses.

Here’s one way to fix our run-on sentence, with the correction indicated in red. (Other corrections are likewise noted in red throughout the rest of the article.)

 

  • I need to give my cat a bath, but she really doesn’t like taking them.

Grammar and writing involve a lot of specialized vocabulary. For more information, click the links throughout this article for Dictionary.com definitions and expert articles, including this one on the many ways to use the comma.

Types of run-on sentences

Run-on sentences are typically classified into two types: fused sentence and comma splice.

 

1. Fused sentence

A fused sentence is a run-on sentence that combines two or more independent clauses together without separating them using a conjunction or punctuation.

Examples of fused sentences:

 

  • Peter collects spiders they bite him all the time.
  • Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica she is always mean to him.
  • I’ll never trust that clown I think he is up to some funny business.

2. Comma splice

Also known as a comma fault, a comma splice incorrectly separates independent clauses with the use of a comma and without a coordinating conjunction. Comma splices result in run-on sentences.

Examples of comma splices:

 

  • Peter collects spiders, they bite him all the time.
  • Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica, she is always mean to him.
  • I’ll never trust that clown, I think he is up to some funny business.

How to correct run-on sentences

There are many ways you can fix run-on sentences. How you should fix them depends on the type of run-on sentence you have as well as the larger purpose of your piece of writing.

Here are four, simple methods you can use to start correct run-on sentences:

 

1. Separate the clauses into new sentences

The simplest way to fix a run-on sentence is to break apart the independent clauses into their own sentences. You can do this by following two easy steps: 1) add a period after the first clause and 2) capitalize the word after the period.

Let’s use this strategy to fix our fused sentence examples from above:

Run-on:  Peter collects spiders they bite him all the time.
Corrected: Peter collects spiders. They bite him all the time.

Run-on: Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica she is always mean to him.
Corrected: Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica. She is always mean to him.

Run-on: I’ll never trust that clown I think he is up to some funny business.
Corrected: I’ll never trust that clown. I think he is up to some funny business.

 

2. Add a comma and a coordinating conjunction

Coordinating conjunctions can help us fix our run-on sentences by acting as the chain that links them together.

Grammar note: a coordinating conjunction is a conjunction that connects two grammatical elements of identical construction. The seven coordinating conjunctions are: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. If you need help remembering them, just think of them as your FANBOYS.

Run-on: Peter collects spiders they bite him all the time.
Corrected: Peter collects spiders, but they bite him all the time.

Run-on:  Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica she is always mean to him.
Corrected: Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica, for she is always mean to him.

Run-on:  I’ll never trust that clown I think he is up to some funny business.
Corrected: I’ll never trust that clown, and I think he is up to some funny business.

Be careful of which conjunction you use. Different conjunctions change the meaning of your sentence. Choosing the wrong can cause some strange results! For instance Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica, so she is always mean to him.

 

3. Use a semicolon, colon, or em dash

Other punctuation marks can separate independent clauses in run-on sentences: the semicolon (;), colon (:), or em dash (—). While these punctuation marks have many overlapping applications, keeping in mind that they also have distinct effects.

Run-on: Peter collects spiders they bite him all the time.
Corrected: Peter collects spiders; however, they bite him all the time.

Run-on:  Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica she is always mean to him.
Corrected: Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica: she is always mean to him.

Run-on:  I’ll never trust that clown I think he is up to some funny business.
Corrected: I’ll never trust that clownI think he is up to some funny business!

 

4. Turn one of the main clauses into a subordinating clause

This technique is more complex. It requires some more skill and choice, such as deciding which of your main clauses works best as a subordinate clause and how best to subordinate it. Using subordinate clauses to fix a run-on also may require you reword parts of your origin

Grammar note: a subordinate clause modifies a main clause (or some part of it), and always begins with a subordinating conjunction. In the sentence The kids ran outside to play when the rain cleared, the subordinate clause is when the rain cleared. Subordinating conjunctions are followed by a comma when they precede the clause they modify: When the rain cleared, the kids ran outside to play.

Here are multiple examples of how you might use subordinating clauses to correct our run-on sentences.

Run-on: Peter collects spiders they bite him all the time.
Corrected: Despite the fact that they bite him all the time, Peter collects spiders.
Corrected: Peter collects spiders even though they bite him all the time.

Run-on:  Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica she is always mean to him.
Corrected: Because she is always mean to him, Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica.
Corrected: Tommy is afraid of his cousin Angelica because she is always mean to him.

Run-on:  I’ll never trust that clown I think he is up to some funny business.
Corrected: As long as I think he is up to some funny business, I’ll never trust that clown.
Corrected: I’ll never trust that clown since I think he is up to some funny business.

 

Is it ever OK to use run-on sentences?

So often, it feels like grammar and writing is about what’s wrong and right, what’s incorrect and correct, about what you should do—and what you should desperately avoid.

But grammar and writing are much more complex and nuanced, and sometimes, you can and should break the rules! This is true for run-on sentences in some instances.

Run-on sentences can recreate the feel of casual speech (which abounds with run-on sentences). And some of the most memorable lines in the English language are technically run-ons, which shows the literary potential of a carefully crafted run-on.

Here are two examples of run-on sentences in literature:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

What does it mean then, what can it all mean?
—Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927)

Polysyndeton and run-on sentences

There are other sentences that can run on and on and on, much like how an excited child might tell a story:

I went to the bench and it was hot and the sun was too bright and then I bought an ice cream cone and it was delicious but then it started melting and so I had to eat it real fast!

The use of conjunctions in a close succession is known in rhetoric as polysyndeton. Polysyndeton can often be used for great rhetorical effect: She ran and jumped and climbed and swam—she had a wonderful day at camp!

However, in many cases, too many conjunctions can make a sentence hard to follow. While polysyndeton isn’t technically a type of run-on, sentences that carry on with too many conjunctions can be unclear—where not just overlong or ungainly. In casual settings, such sentences may sometimes be described as run-on sentences.

More examples of correcting run-on sentences

 

Fused sentence examples

 

  • I like pickles my brother likes them, too. Correction: I like pickles, and my brother likes them, too.
  • Hand me the pizza it is on the table. Correction: Hand me the pizza. It is on the table.
  • He is from Venus she is from Mars. Correction: He is from Venus; she is from Mars.
  • The store is closed we’ll come back tomorrow. Correction: The store is closed, so we’ll come back tomorrow.
  • My dad got mad at me I broke the washing machine. Correction: My dad got mad at me because I broke the washing machine.

Comma splice examples

 

  • The room was very dark, I turned the light on. Correction: The room was very dark. I turned the light on.
  • Some people say aliens built the pyramids, I think that is silly. Correction: Some people say aliens built the pyramids, but I think that is silly.
  • I can’t eat peanut butter, I am allergic to peanuts. Correction: Because I am allergic to peanuts, I can’t eat peanut butter.
  • Dance with me, you know you want to. Correction: Dance with meyou know you want to!
  • We watched the movie it, was terrible. Correction: We watched the movie; it was terrible.

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Stellar writing isn't just about avoiding run-on sentences. Review some of these helpful and effective transitions, so your sentences run smoothly.