Bridge to Story

Hunt for Run-on Clauses

Leaving off punctuation between two thoughts can lead to a run-on between the clauses (multiple thoughts). When a novice writer joins words or word groups by adding proper punctuation (,) an additional thought isn’t a problem in a longer line.

If you forget the comma, semi-colon, colon, em dash, or other marks, things can get muddy between the first thought and the next (,) where several thoughts have been combined in the same sentence.

Connecting with conjunctions is correct and allowable (but) connecting words and thoughts with multiple conjunctions all in a single sentence can be unwieldy to read (so) you might consider breaking up some longer lines into more than one sentence.

In this lesson we’ll learn to use comma connections of two thoughts

Let a sentence with a single thought stand alone if you can, unless you are combining them for stylistic reasons. Notice that in the example string of individual thoughts there’s no need to use any of the conjunctions or words such as these: like, and, so, or, but.

Example Toggle


Look a these seven individual sentences from a piece of flash fiction:

Bobby had decided. Once the cop was out the door, he'd make his move. He'd go after that annoying guy at the back table. The one with the newspaper. Always rustling that damn thing. Damned annoying. Bobby would take him out first.

Now maybe the writer wanted things to sound rushed, like a stream of consciousness, a feverish plan being rehearsed in someone's mind. Or, maybe she wants to combine these seven lines but avoid run-ons.

Seven lines and 42 words becomes 39 words and three lines by using commas and combining.

The guy at the back table, the one rustling his newspaper every five seconds, Bobby’d take him out first. As soon as the cop walked back to his car that annoying mother was toast. Him and his damned newspaper.

How do you know you used those added commas correctly? See the lessons’ exercise to see what to add or not add.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

If you can remove the inserted phrase from a long sentence: within the opening comma and closing commas (the one rustling his newspaper every five seconds) and the line still makes sense, you have avoided a fused or run-on line.

The guy at the back table, the one rustling his newspaper every five seconds, Bobby’d take him out first.

The guy at the back table, Bobby’d take him out first. Yep. That works.

If you’ve removed the inserted part and the sentence won't hold up as readable you shouldn't use the inserted phrase in the center of that sentence. Rewrite it as two thought or even three thoughts.

Now, look at your own work. Can you remove any [inserted phrases] and commas?

Notice in the example how the seven sentences were shifted or combined to make only three lines. Keep this one tip in mind– you can combine by shifting or by leaving things out. Combining doesn’t just mean tacking a full line onto another full line with commas or a conjunction word.