Category Archives: run-ons

Nine tips I’ve learned from teaching the writing parts of the SAT and ACT

  1. A rewritten phrase or clause with the word “being” in it is almost always wrong. Perplexed student writing
  2. Shorter versions of rewritten grammar are usually the correct answers.  If in doubt, choose the shortest or second shortest answer.
  3. Hard to spot run-on sentences often have a comma in the middle of the sentence followed by a subject pronoun.   The comma needs to be  a period, or a semicolon.  Or you need to put a coordinating conjunction after the comma.
  4. If you have one dash, you need two dashes unless the sentence ends where the second dash would be.
  5. In lists or series, the important words must be the same part of speech such as all nouns, all verbs, all infinitives, or all gerunds.
  6. “It’s” means it is. “Its” means something belongs to it.  Its’ is not a word.
  7. “They’re” means they are. “Their” means something belongs to them.  “There” means over there or that something exists.  All three begin with “the.”  Thier is not a word.
  8. Commas come before coordinating conjunctions, not after unless what follows the conjunction is nonessential information.
  9. Third person singular verbs (the kind you use with “he,” “she,” or “it” as the subject) in the present tense end in an “s.”

How to teach students to overcome run-ons

One of the most common writing mistakes students make is run-on sentences.

There are several types of run-on sentences.

  • A run-on can be two independent clauses connected by a comma (sometimes called a comma splice) such as “I ate an ice cream cone, it tasted good.”
  • A run-on can be two independent clauses with no punctuation separating them such as “I ate an ice cream cone it tasted good.”
  • A run-on can be one independent clause and one fragment usually connected without punctuation such as “I ate an ice cream cone was good.”

The problem is not how to correct run-ons.  When I point out run-ons in students’ writing, almost always students can identify where the error is and insert the correct punctuation or needed words.

The problem is that students don’t recognize run-ons within their own writing until someone points them out.  How can students be trained to recognize run-ons?

When I work with a student who tends to write  run-ons, I write “R-O” in the margins of papers we are revising.  At the end of our lesson, when we go over what needs improvement, again I write “R-O” in that list. On later dates, before we revise any student writing, I ask the student what kinds of errors he often makes.  Almost always he will say, “run-ons.”  I direct him to check each sentence for run-ons and to correct them before we revise together.

My hope is that when a student knows he makes a particular writing mistake, such as run-ons, he will look for those mistakes before submitting his writing to a teacher or to me.  This takes practice.

I have found certain kinds of run-ons are common.  One is an independent thought followed by a second independent thought which begins with a pronoun.  For example, “John ate the pie it was delicious.”  Or “Mary fell off the swing she hurt her elbow.”  Sometimes this type run-on uses a comma between the two clauses and sometimes not.

If I know a particular student tends to make these mistakes, I remind him to circle pronouns in the middle of sentences and to see if those pronouns start independent thoughts.  If so, a period, semicolon or comma-conjunction pair is needed to correct the error.

When I give students worksheets on run-ons, they spot and correct them with ease.  But when they write, they are unaware they have written run-ons until someone points this out or until they have become so accustomed to searching for them after-the-fact that they question themselves about a run-on while they are composing.

The key to solving run-ons is practice in recognizing them.  This can take years.