Not recognizing run-on sentences is a common problem among the middle school students I tutor. Two categories of run-ons are the most common: those using a comma instead of a period or semicolon to separate clauses, and those whose second clause starts with a pronoun.
Run-ons which use a comma as the punctuation to separate the two clauses are sometimes called “comma splices.” Here are a few examples:
- August runs to his homeroom, no one wants to sit next to him.
- Julian bullies August every day, Julian even starts the “plague.”
- August forgives Jack later, Jack says “sorry” to him.
I have tried using sentence grammar to make students see that sentences like these are run-ons. But that doesn’t work. The most effective way I have found is to have the student say aloud the clause before the comma. “Does that sound like a sentence?” I ask. The student usually knows if it sounds like a sentence or if it sounds “funny.” Then I have the student say aloud the second clause. Again I ask if that sounds like a sentence. We do this over and over.
Run-ons which begin the second clause with a pronoun are another kind I often see. Some examples are
- The meanest of all is Julian he puts mean notes in August’s locker.
- Jack’s friends help them escape they become friends with August.
- August runs away he has been betrayed by one of his friends.
I ask students who often write run-ons to look for pronouns in the middle of a sentence. “Read aloud what comes before the pronoun.” They do. “Does it sound like a sentence.” It does. “Now read the part that starts with the pronoun. Does it sound like a sentence?” It does.
For students to identify run-ons this way, they must know what a pronoun is. Sometimes one or two lessons on identifying pronouns must precede lessons on run-ons.
Students pay attention more when the examples come from their own writing or when the sentences contain their names or those of their friends.