“Sometimes when, after kissing me, she opened the door to go, I longed to call her back, to say to her ‘Kiss me just once again,’ but I knew that then she would at once look displeased, for the concession which she made to my wretchedness and agitation in coming up to me with this kiss of peace always annoyed my father, who thought such ceremonies absurd, and she would have liked to try to induce me to outgrow the need, the custom of having her there at all, which was a very different thing from letting the custom grow up of my asking her for an additional kiss when she was already crossing the threshold.”
∼ from Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
When asked to define a run-on sentence, people will often say it is an overly long sentence. Actually, though, the error has little to do with sentence length, since the sentence “I slept I ate.” consists of just 4 words and is, in fact, a run-on sentence, while the sentence quoted above is 116 words long and is grammatically correct.
From the first volume of Proust’s seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time (also translated as Remembrance of Things Past), considered by many to be one of the greatest works of literature ever written, this 116-word sentence is entirely grammatical, but, because it contains a number of dependent clauses, it is difficult to follow and requires focus and determination when we read it.
On the other hand, “I slept I ate.” is a fused sentence—a type of run-on sentence—because it lacks internal punctuation and instead “fuses” together two complete sentences (or independent clauses, with a subject and verb, that can stand alone).
One type of run-on sentence, then, is a fused sentence; the other type is a comma splice, or two or more independent clauses that are separated (or “spliced”) by a comma. A comma splice is a very common error, as in this example: I went home for dinner, I finished my report. In English, it is never correct to separate two independent clauses with a comma.
To fix a run-on sentence (either a fused sentence or a comma splice), do this:
- INCORRECT (fused sentence) I slept I ate.
- CORRECT (three possible fixes) • I slept. I ate. • I slept; I ate. • I slept, and I ate.
- INCORRECT (comma splice) I went home for dinner, I finished my report.
- CORRECT (three possible fixes) • I went home for dinner. I finished my report. • I went home for dinner; I finished my report. • I went home for dinner, and I finished my report.
So now you know.