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The Run-On Sentence: Don’t Make Readers Work So Hard

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

An online devotional for writers

A Word From The Word

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3, NLT)

A Word For Writers

The Run-On Sentence: a #devotional for #writers based on Eph 1:3 with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #ContentWriting

A run-on sentence is made up of two or more sentences (independent clauses, for your grammarians out there) the sentences are not connected properly. 

Oops. That’s a run-on. Let’s try again … 

A run-on sentence is made up of two or more sentences (independent clauses, for your grammarians out there). The sentences are not connected properly. 

See the difference? The period broke up the run-on. Our eyes need signposts, like punctuation (a period or comma or a dash) or a connecting word (and, but, or yet, for example) to show us where one thought ends and another begins. Otherwise, a run-on sentence is confusing and hard to understand.

Writers use run-on sentences to show a stream of consciousness on paper. In a famed example, William Faulkner's 1,287-word sentence in the novel, Absalom, Absalom! depicts a continuous flow of feelings and thoughts that run together. In other words, a run-on sentence is a literary device – a tool writers use for special effect. 

But when you want to write clearly, it’s best to not make the reader work so hard.

Even so, the Apostle Paul was guilty of writing run-ons. In its original Greek, Ephesians 1:3-14 is a single sentence, clocking in at more than 200 words. In comparison, today’s average sentence length is 17 words.

To be fair, the passage communicates a single idea as a sentence should: the ways God has blessed us. Paul goes on with umpteenth phrases and clauses that describe the blessings of our creation … our adoption …. our forgiveness … our unity with Christ … our inheritance …. our identity …

Which is why some have dubbed Ephesians 3:3-14 as “the best run-on sentence ever.” Each phrase contains a single, rich thought and message.

Back in Paul's time, readers had to make sense of run-ons. Fortunately, the commas and periods you see in the text today were added in the sixteenth century, making Ephesians 1 and other scripture easier for us to read and understand.

But these days, when you write content, don’t force your readers to work so hard. 

A Wise Word

Avoid writing run-on sentences. They make readers work too hard.

A Word To Pray

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for all those who have gone before me who have helped present scripture in a way I can understand in my language. Let me to respect today’s readers. Show me how to write clearly and succinctly so I don’t confuse them.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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