Grammar Tip of the Day: Run-On Sentences
Despite what many believe, a run-on sentence is not just a long sentence. William Faulkner, for example, wrote plenty of lengthy sentences that were not run-ons. (He also wrote plenty that were!) Here’s an example from the opening scene of Faulkner’s short story, “That Evening Sun”:
“Monday is no different from any other weekday in Jefferson now. The streets are paved now, and the telephone and electric companies are cutting down more and more of the shade trees–the water oaks, the maples and locusts and elms–to make room for iron poles bearing clusters of bloated and ghostly and bloodless grapes, and we have a city laundry which makes the rounds on Monday morning, gathering the bundles of clothes into bright-colored, specially-made motor cars: the soiled wearing of a whole week now flees apparitionlike behind alert and irritable electric horns, with a long diminishing noise of rubber and asphalt like tearing silk, and even the Negro women, who still take in white people’s washing after the old custom, fetch and deliver it in automobiles.”
That’s a mouthful–but it’s not a run-on sentence. All of the commas are placed correctly to split up the different clauses, and the colon works to differentiate the two independent clauses in the sentence. If you wrote a sentence like this in an essay, your teacher might tell you to break it up because it’s too wordy, but your teacher should NOT call it a run-on.
Technically, a run-on is a sentence in which two independent clauses are improperly joined–either with a comma (called a comma splice) or no punctuation at all (called a fused sentence). Briefly, an independent clause is one that contains a subject and a verb and can stand on its own; in other words, a dependent clause is its own complete sentence. A run-on does not have to be long at all. Here’s an example, also from Faulkner:
“What else can I think about what else have I thought about”
While much shorter than the previous example, this is the run-on sentence. Here’s the first independent clause: What else can I think about. The second is: What else have i thought about. Both could stand on their own as full sentences, but they lack punctuation between them. To correct the error, Faulkner should write, “What else can I think about? What else have I thought about?”
Here’s another example:
I don’t have to I cant ask now afterward it will be all right it wont matter
How would you punctuate this sentence?
It’s worth noting that both of the run-on examples come from the inner thoughts of a character in The Sound and the Fury . Why might Faulkner use run-ons to convey someone’s inner monologue?