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12.20: Run-On Sentences and Fragments

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    Run-on Sentences

    A run-on sentence is a sentence with more than one clause and has not be properly punctuated. It also may include too much information for the reader to take in. One type of run-on that you’ve probably heard of is the comma splice, in which two independent clauses are joined by a comma without a coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, etc.).

    Let’s look at a few examples of run-on sentences:

    • Often, choosing a topic for a paper is the hardest part it’s a lot easier after that. (This sentence is missing punctuation.)
    • Sometimes, books do not have the most complete information, it is a good idea then to look for articles in specialized periodicals. (This sentence doesn't have the right type of punctuation.)
    • She loves skiing but he doesn’t. (This sentence doesn't have the right type of punctuation.)

    All three of these have two independent clauses. Each clause should be separated from another with a period, a semicolon, or a comma and a coordinating conjunction:

    • Often, choosing a topic for a paper is the hardest part. It’s a lot easier after that.
    • Sometimes, books do not have the most complete information; it is a good idea then to look for articles in specialized periodicals.
    • She loves skiing, but he doesn’t.

    Note: Not every long sentence is a run-on sentence. For example, look at this quote from The Great Gastby:

    Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

    If you look at the punctuation, you’ll see that this quote is a single sentence. F. Scott Fitzgerald used commas and semicolons in such a way that, despite its great length, the sentence is grammatically sound. Length is no guarantee of a run-on sentence.

    Common Causes of Run-Ons

    We often write run-on sentences because we sense that the sentences involved are closely related, and dividing them with a period just doesn’t seem right. We may also write them because the parts seem too short to need any division, such as in “She loves skiing but he doesn’t.” However, “She loves skiing” and “he doesn’t” are both independent clauses, so they need to be divided by a comma and a coordinating conjunction—not just a coordinating conjunction by itself.

    Another common cause of run-on sentences is mistaking adverbial conjunctions for coordinating conjunctions. For example if we were to write, “She loved skiing, however he didn’t,” we would have produced a comma splice. The correct sentence would be “She loved skiing; however, he didn’t.”

    Fixing Run-On Sentences

    Before you can fix a run-on sentence, you’ll need to identify the problem. When you write, carefully look at each part of every sentence. Are the parts independent clauses, or are they dependent clauses or phrases? Remember, only independent clauses can stand on their own. This also means they have to stand on their own; they can’t run together without correct punctuation.

    Let’s take a look at a few run-on sentences and their revisions:

    1. Most of the hours I’ve earned toward my associate’s degree do not transfer, however, I do have at least some hours the university will accept.
    2. The opposite is true of stronger types of stainless steel they tend to be more susceptible to rust.
    3. Some people were highly educated professionals, others were from small villages in underdeveloped countries.

    Let’s start with the first sentence. This is a comma-splice sentence. The adverbial conjunction however is being treated like a coordinating conjunction. There are two easy fixes to this problem. The first is to turn the comma before however into a period. If this feels like too hard of a stop between ideas, you can change the comma into a semicolon instead.

    • Most of the hours I’ve earned toward my associate’s degree do not transfer. However, I do have at least some hours the University will accept.
    • Most of the hours I’ve earned toward my associate’s degree do not transfer; however, I do have at least some hours the University will accept.

    The second sentence is a run-on as well. “The opposite is true of stronger types of stainless steel” and “they tend to be more susceptible to rust.” are both independent clauses. The two clauses are very closely related, and the second clarifies the information provided in the first. The best solution is to insert a colon between the two clauses:

    The opposite is true of stronger types of stainless steel: they tend to be more susceptible to rust.

    What about the last example? Once again we have two independent clauses. The two clauses provide contrasting information. Adding a conjunction could help the reader move from one kind of information to another. However, you may want that sharp contrast. Here are two revision options:

    • Some people were highly educated professionals, while others were from small villages in underdeveloped countries.
    • Some people were highly educated professionals. Others were from small villages in underdeveloped countries.

    Exercise 1

    Identify the run-on sentences in the following paragraph:

    I had the craziest dream the other night. My cousin Jacob and I were on the run from the law. Apparently we were wizards and the law was cracking down on magic. So, we obviously had to go into hiding but I lost track of Jacob and then I got picked up by a cop. But I was able to convince him that the government was corrupt and that he should take me to my escape boat.

    Answer

    The first two sentences are grammatically sound. The next sentence, however, is not.

    Apparently we were wizards and the law was cracking down on magic.

    This sentence just needs a comma inserted before the word and: Apparently we were wizards, and the law was cracking down on magic.

    Let’s look at the next sentence:

    So, we obviously had to go into hiding but I lost track of Jacob and then I got picked up by a cop.

    This is also a run-on sentence. While So at the beginning of the sentence is technically fine, it’s unnecessary, and many teachers dislike it as a transition word. There are three clauses in this run-on sentence, so there are a few different ways you could rework it:

    • We obviously had to go into hiding, but I lost track of Jacob. After that, I got picked up by a cop.
    • We obviously had to go into hiding. Unfortunately, I had lost track of Jacob and had gotten picked up by a cop.

    Let’s look at the final sentence:

    But I was able to convince him that the government was corrupt and that he should take me to my escape boat.

    This sentence is technically okay, but the but at the start of the sentence is unnecessary, and it could be removed without affecting the meaning of the sentence. Additionally, it may be helpful to clarify who he is:

    I was able to convince the cop that the government was corrupt and that he should take me to my escape boat.

    Run-On Sentences vs. Comma Splices

    In English, a clause is a group of words containing a subject and verb. A sentence is a clause that expresses a complete thought. This type of clause is known as an independent clause. Problems occur when independent clauses are joined together incorrectly. Study the following examples.

    Independent Clauses Incorrect Sentences Problem
    The students worked hard on the project.
    They deserved a high score.
    The students worked hard on the project they deserved a high score. Run-on
    The students worked hard on the project.
    They deserved a high score.
    The students worked hard on the project, they deserved a high score. Comma Splice

    Explanation: The first incorrect sentence is a RUN-ON sentence. The two independent clauses have been joined together without a connector or any punctuation marks. The second incorrect sentence is known as a COMMA SPLICE. Here, a comma has been incorrectly used to join the two independent clauses together. There are four ways to correct such errors.

    1. Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

    Example: She worked hard on the project, so they deserved a high score.

    2. Use a semi-colon followed by a conjunctive adverb, such as: consequently, however, on the other hand, nevertheless, meanwhile, and therefore.

    The formula is semi-colon + conjunctive adverb + comma.

    Example: The students worked hard on the project; consequently, they deserved a high score.

    3. Use a semi-colon without a connecting word.

    Example: The students worked hard on the project; they deserved a high score.

    4. Create two sentences by adding a period at the end of the first independent clause and capitalizing the first word of the second independent clause.

    Example: The students worked hard on the project. They deserved a high score.

    Sentence Fragments

    Fragments are simply grammatically incomplete sentences—they are phrases and dependent clauses. We talked about phrases and clauses a bit in Section 12.2, "Word Order and Sentence Structure." These are grammatical structures that cannot stand on their own: They need to be connected to an independent clause to work in writing. So how can we tell the difference between a sentence and a sentence fragment? And how can we fix fragments when they already exist?

    Common Causes of Fragments

    Part of the reason we write in fragments is because we often speak that way. However, there is a difference between writing and speech, and it is important to write in complete sentences. Additionally, fragments often happen in writing because a fragment may already seem too long.

    Non-finite verbs (gerunds, participles, and infinitives) can often trip people up as well. Since non-finite verbs don’t act like verbs, we don’t count them as verbs when we’re deciding if we have a phrase or a clause. Let’s look at a few examples of these:

    • Running away from my mother.
    • To ensure your safety and security.
    • Beaten down since day one.

    Even though all of the above have non-finite verbs, they’re phrases, not clauses. In order for these to be clauses, they would need an additional verb that acts as a verb in the sentence.

    Words like since, when, and because turn an independent clause into a dependent clause. For example “I was a little girl in 1995” is an independent clause, but “Because I was a little girl in 1995” is a dependent clause. This class of word includes the following:

    after although as as far as as if as long as as soon as
    as though because before even if even though every time if
    in order that since so so that than though unless
    until when whenever where whereas wherever while

    Relative pronouns, such as that and which, do the same type of thing as those listed above.

    Coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS) can also cause problems. If you start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, make sure that it is followed a complete clause, not just a phrase!

    As you’re identifying fragments, keep in mind that command sentences are not fragments, despite not having a subject. Commands are the only grammatically correct sentences that lack a subject:

    • Drop and give me fifty!
    • Count how many times the word fragrant is used during commercial breaks.

    In this case, the subject "you" is implied.

    Fixing Sentence Fragments

    Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

    1. Ivana appeared at the committee meeting last week. And made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product.
    2. The committee considered her ideas for a new marketing strategy quite powerful. The best ideas that they had heard in years.
    3. She spent a full month evaluating his computer-based instructional materials. Which she eventually sent to her supervisor with the strongest of recommendations.

    Let’s look at the phrase “And made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product” in example one. It’s just that: a phrase. There is no subject in this phrase, so the easiest fix is to simply delete the period and combine the two statements:

    Ivana appeared at the committee meeting last week and made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product.

    Let’s look at example two. The phrase “the best ideas they had heard in years” is simply a phrase—there is no verb contained in the phrase. By adding “they were” to the beginning of this phrase, we have turned the fragment into an independent clause, which can now stand on its own:

    The committee considered her ideas for a new marketing strategy quite powerful; they were the best ideas that they had heard in years.

    What about example three? Let’s look at the clause “Which she eventually sent to her supervisor with the strongest of recommendations.” This is a dependent clause; the word which signals this fact. If we change “which she eventually” to “eventually, she,” we also turn the dependent clause into an independent clause.

    She spent a full month evaluating his computer-based instructional materials. Eventually, she sent the evaluation to her supervisor with the strongest of recommendations.

    Editing Fragments that Are Missing a Subject or a Verb

    5ffe437dffbe048be08aa06d2f3e0cf1.jpg
    Figure: from "Guide to Writing"

    Editing Fragments that Begin with a Gerund

    c6c037e98dcc9233f17f59752aa51610.jpg
    Figure: from "Guide to Writing"

    Editing Fragments that Begin with a Prepositional Phrase

    72e10784613c15d2932f2179346e40a2.jpg
    Figure: from "Guide to Writing"

    Exercise 2

    Identify the fragments in the sentences below. Why are they fragments? What are some possible solutions?

    1. The corporation wants to begin a new marketing push in educational software. Although, the more conservative executives of the firm are skeptical.
    2. Include several different sections in your proposal. For example, a discussion of your personnel and their qualifications, your expectations concerning the schedule of the project, and a cost breakdown.
    3. The research team has completely reorganized the workload. Making sure that members work in areas of their own expertise and that no member is assigned proportionately too much work.
    Answer
    Here are some possible revisions for the sentences. Remember, there are multiple solutions. Pay attention to the principles used to create the revised sentence.

    In the fragment “Although, the more conservative executives of the firm are skeptical,” the subordinating conjunction although is being used as an adverbial conjunction in this sentence. There are two simple revision to resolve the fragment.

    • Change although to be an adverbial conjunction: “The corporation wants to begin a new marketing push in educational software. However, the more conservative executives of the firm are skeptical.”
    • Move the fragment to the beginning of the sentence and link it to the independent clause with a comma after it: “Although the more conservative executives of the firm are skeptical, the corporation wants to begin a new marketing push in educational software.”
    The first sentence is a command; it is a correct sentence. The second sentence is a fragment, however. The simplest change is to switch the period before “for example” out for a colon. Colons can be followed by a phrase or dependent clause.
    • Include several different sections in your proposal: for example, a discussion of your personnel and their qualifications, your expectations concerning the schedule of the project, and a cost breakdown.
    The second sentence is a fragment. You can either change making to “they made” and have two sentences, or you can change making to “in order to make sure.” In order to is a subordinating conjunction, so it does not require a comma beforehand:
    • The research team has completely reorganized the workload. They made sure that members work in areas of their own expertise and that no member is assigned proportionately too much work.
    • The research team has completely reorganized the workload in order to make sure that members work in areas of their own expertise and that no member is assigned proportionately too much work.

    Correcting Sentence Fragments in Dependent Clauses

    Dependent clauses, also known as subordinate clauses, contain subjects and verbs. However, unlike independent clauses, they do not express complete thoughts. They are simply parts of sentences, or fragments. Consider the following examples:

    Fragment When we arrived at the restaurant.
    Explanation Although this fragment, or dependent clause has a subject (we) and a verb (arrived), it has no meaning for the reader. It needs to be joined to an independent clause for it to make sense.
    Corrected When we arrived at the restaurant, our friends were already waiting for us.
    Fragment Because she was excited about the wedding.
    Explanation Like the first example, this fragment, or dependent clause contains a subject (she) and a verb (was), but it makes no sense on its own. However, we can easily correct the problem by joining the fragment, to an independent clause, as above.
    Corrected Because she was excited about the wedding, she couldn't sleep.

    Exercise 3

    On your own sheet of paper, identify each sentence as a fragment, a run-on, or correct. Then, rewrite the paragraph by correcting the sentence fragments and run-ons.

    My favorite book is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, he was born in 1894 and died in 1963 __________________. Written in 1931. ________________. A futuristic society where humans are born out of test tubes and kept in rigid social classes __________________. This may not seem like a humorous premise for a novel, but Huxley uses satire, which is a type of humor that is used to make a serious point. _________________. The humans in Brave New World learn through sleep teaching, Huxley calls this "hypnopedia" _________________. Everyone is kept "happy" in the brave new world by taking a pill called soma, there is one character named John the Savage who does not take soma ___________________. Because he comes from a different part of the world where there is no technology, and he believes in natural ways of living ____________________. It turns out that John has a big problem with the brave new world and how people live there ___________________. Will he be able to survive living there, well you will have to read the novel to find out _______________________. Brave New World is considered a classic in English literature, it is one of the best novels I have ever read _____________.

    Answer

    My favorite book is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, he was born in 1894 and died in 1963 run-on. Written in 1931. fragment. A futuristic society where humans are born out of test tubes and kept in rigid social classes fragment. This may not seem like a humorous premise for a novel, but Huxley uses satire, which is a type of humor that is used to make a serious point correct. The humans in Brave New World learn through sleep teaching, Huxley calls this "hypnopedia" run-on. Everyone is kept "happy" in the brave new world by taking a pill called soma, there is one character named John the Savage who does not take soma run-on. Because he comes from a different part of the world where there is no technology, and he believes in natural ways of living fragment. It turns out that John has a big problem with the brave new world and how people live there correct. Will he be able to survive living there, well you will have to read the novel to find out run-on. Brave New World is considered a classic in English literature, it is one of the best novels I have ever read run-on.

    Contributors and Attributions

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    • How to use a semicolon - Emma Bryce. Authored by: TED-Ed. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
    • Colons and Semicolons. Authored by: The School of Life.License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
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    The page was most recently updated on June 8, 2020.


    12.20: Run-On Sentences and Fragments is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto.