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Run-On Sentences Can Be Your Friend. Fragments, Too.

You’ve been schooled in the evils of run-on sentences since the day you wrote more than one “and” in an essay.

The biggest objection from your teachers? Run-ons are grammatically incorrect. They lack acceptable punctuation. They’re just not right, according to your high school language arts instructor.

Editing run-on sentences and fragments with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter. #WritingTips

Of course, those are the same English teachers that painted blood-red lines through your sentence fragments, too.

All that rigorous training to prevent run-ons and fragments is useful when you’re writing a business document or an academic paper. But today’s digital content, emails, and blog posts call for conversational writing — a less formal style that encourages back-and-forth interaction. You want to write in such a way that your reader has a discussion with you, whether it’s in her head or on the screen.

Conversational writing calls for run-ons and fragments, buttercup. Content writers and copywriters and fiction writers: I’m talking to you. Make friends with run-ons and fragments. Here’s how you can identify these bad boys … and how you can use them to write conversationally.

What is an example of a run-on sentence?

A run-on sentence is a sentence made up of two or more sentences, they are joined together without punctuation they may be joined together without a conjunction.

Whew. That was a bunch of gobbledygook. You’ve got two major problems running together in that run-on sentence definition:

  • Problem 1: the comma splice. Are you using a comma where you should have a period? In this case, it’s right at the end of the first complete thought: A run-on sentence is a sentence made up of two or more sentences, they are joined together …
  • Problem 2: the fused sentence. These present with missing punctuation or conjunction between two sentences — in this case, they are joined together without punctuation they may be joined together without a conjunction.

No wonder your teacher was horrified at your run-ons. They confuse me and I wrote them! Let’s try again.

The definition of a run-on sentence? A run-on is two or more sentences that are squashed together improperly. So say the good folks at Grammarly. And as the name implies, they know their stuff.

The real problem with run-on sentences

But the real problem with run-on sentences has nothing to do with grammar or rule-following. Writers break grammar rules all the time. Your composition teacher drilled those rules into you so you could learn how language is structured.

The real problem with run-on sentences is that they are hard to understand. Sentences with too many ideas … sentences without punctuated signposts … sentences without connectors — all of these can be confusing for the reader.

So the reader must go back and read the sentence again. Or the reader gets mixed up and thinks, “I must not be smart enough to get this.” Or the reader just gives up.

Not good.

The real problem with sentence fragments

If you’re a digital writer or content creator, one of your key goals is to make ideas easy to read. That’s a key tenant of writing conversationally — “write like you talk.” Enter the appeal of shorter sentences.

And sentence fragments.

A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. Maybe it’s missing a noun. Or a verb. But usually, in spite of the omission, you can figure out a fragment’s meaning. Writers use sentence fragments for emphasis.

Too many sentence fragments? Doesn’t work. Too choppy. (See what I mean?)

When you talk, you use both run-on sentences and fragments. If you want to write clearly — and write like you talk — then the solution is simple. Include both. Just vary your sentence length. That means sometimes you get to include run-on sentences. And sometimes, fragments.

How to fix run-on sentences

But as always, too much of a good thing isn’t good. If you’ve got too many run-on sentences, there are lots of different ways you can fix them. You’ve got two big allies in the battle: punctuation and connecting words. (also called conjunctions by writing big shots.)

Punctuation acts like signposts. Conjunctions (and, or, but, yet) combine thoughts to make writing smoother, much like a backroad that connects two highways. Try these run-on fixes using punctuation and conjunctions.

Fix #1: Make two (or more) sentences by adding punctuation.

Original: A run-on sentence is a sentence is made up of two or more sentences, they are joined together without punctuation they may be joined together without conjunction.

The fix:A run-on sentence is a sentence is made up of two or more sentences. They are joined together without punctuation. They may be joined together without a conjunction.

Fix #2: Split your run-on into two (or more) sentences and use connectors.

Original:A run-on sentence is a sentence is made up of two or more sentences, they are joined together without punctuation they may be joined together without conjunction.

The fix: A run-on sentence is a sentence is made up of two or more sentences. They are joined together without punctuation or they may be joined together without a conjunction.

Fix #3: Write a fragment.

Original:A run-on sentence is a sentence is made up of two or more sentences, they are joined together without punctuation they may be joined together without conjunction.

The fix: A run-on sentence is a sentence is made up of two or more sentences. They are joined together without punctuation. Or without conjunction.

How to fix sentence fragments

Fragments have just one problem. Too many of them. Result? Uneven, jerky writing. Solution: combine them. Add verbs. Or nouns.

Or …

Sentence fragments present just one problem. Too many of them make your writing uneven and jerky. The simple solution is to combine a couple of fragments together to make fuller sentences. Leave one or two shorts. The variation will give your writing a nice lilt.

When should you use run-on sentences and fragments?

My mother told me there’s a time and place for everything and everything has its time and place and that means there’s a time and a place for run-ons and sentence fragments.

(Nice run-on. So says the fragment.)

Forget what your language arts teacher preached. Make friends with run-on sentences and sentence fragments. The occasional run-on lets your content spill and tumble and trip over itself to drive an idea home. And fragments? They give breathing space to your content.

Or emphasize a point.

Mix up your sentence length. Your readers will feel like they’re talking with you. They may smile — at least inwardly. And they may even talk back in the comments.

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