What Are Run-On Sentences?

Do you think run-on sentences are really long sentences? It's not that simple.


Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
Letters fly endlessly out of a book as though they are part of a run-on sentence.

Run-On Sentences and Your Writing Style

Sometimes people ask me how they can choose the best way to structure their sentences when there are so many different ways to connect independent clauses. In most cases, there's no right answer to that question. You have to determine what kind of tone you want to set. For example, to me “I am a woman. I am a truck driver,” has a hard and strong tone, whereas “I am a woman; nevertheless, I am a truck driver,” has more of a conversational or confessional tone. In the first case, where I used the periods, I expect to hear a tale of conflict. In the second case, where I used a conjunctive adverb, I expect to just hear an interesting story. But the differences can obviously be subtle and subjective.

How you fix a run-on sentence depends on how the different parts are related to each other and what tone and rhythm you are trying to achieve.

When you're writing, it's important not to over-think your sentence structure. If you make sure your sentences are grammatically correct and write what you mean to say, there's a good chance you'll just automatically pick the right structure for your needs, especially if you are a native English speaker. If you get too hung up on whether to use a semicolon or a conjunction, it can inhibit your creativity (at least it can for me). Save those decisions for the editing.

Also, most people end up having a personal writing style that favors certain solutions over others for no apparent reason. I bet you can read email messages from your friends and tell who wrote most of them, no matter what the topic is, because you'll recognize your friends' writing styles. It can be a fun exercise to try to write in a style that is completely different from how you would normally write—just make sure you don't fuse independent clauses together and make run-on sentences.

Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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