Theoretically, you can create a sentence that goes on forever. You got a little taste of this in my post about how to write a sentence. You can spend a lot of time adding more adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions, and if you run out of those (you won’t), you can string infinite sentences together with “ands”, “buts”, and “ors”. The possible length of a sentence isn’t determined by grammatical rules or certain words—the only reason a sentence has to end is that the speaker would eventually fall asleep, run out of air, forget what s/he was talking about, or die.
An example for the non-believers
Let’s have a little fun with Lucas, who you may have seen on this blog and on the Magoosh SAT blog.
Here’s an entire sentence from a recent post about grammar on the SAT: “Because there are fewer grammar topics than there are math topics, they carry more weight on average. So already, you can see how studying it would pay off.”
And here’s the kicker: a lot of that grammar is actually already pretty natural to you. Topics like transition words, subject–verb agreement, and tenses may take a keen eye at times, but if you train yourself to watch for them on the test, you’ll be using your innate English knowledge, which you exercise every time you speak.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study! Even if some of it comes naturally, a lot of it doesn’t. But most of the rules are pretty clean cut, and they can be learned.”
Theoretically, I can make this into one long, grammatically correct sentence: Because there are fewer grammar topics than there are math topics, they carry more weight on average, so you can see how studying it would pay off, and here’s the kicker: a lot of that grammar is actually pretty natural to you, like transition words, subject-verb agreement, and tenses, which may take a keen eye at times, but if you train yourself to watch for them on the test, you’ll be using your innate English knowledge, which you use every time you speak, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study, because even if some of it comes naturally, a lot of it doesn’t, and most of the rules are pretty clean cut, and they can be learned.
Yuck. By the end of that, I had almost forgotten what I was even writing about. But even if it wasn’t a very nice sentence, it was still perfectly grammatical.
What is a run-on sentence?
I could very easily have made a mistake that would have made the whole thing incorrect. The easiest trap to fall into would have been to create a run-on sentence. This means that I would have two independent clauses joined incorrectly.
If you’re not clear on what independent and dependent clauses are, check out How to Make a Sentence for a quick demonstration.
Let’s return to our examples from that lesson.
I gave Tony a gift for his birthday. He didn’t give me anything for mine.
Last time, I combined these sentences into one grammatical compound sentence like this: “I gave Tony a gift for his birthday, but he didn’t give me anything for mine.” To make a run-on sentence, I will not use a conjunction; I will simply join the two sentences, maybe throwing in a comma for good measure. “I gave Tony a gift for his birthday, he didn’t give me anything for mine.”
I’m wearing a silly hat. I don’t want to go outside. Here’s a run-on made from these two sentences: “I’m wearing a silly hat I don’t want to go outside.”
The difference between a compound sentence and a run-on sentence is subtle, but absolutely crucial; run-ons are a big no-no in any context.
Remember these rules:
1) All clauses are either independent (include a subject) or dependent (do not include a subject).
2) All sentences must have at least one subject.
3) Independent clauses must be joined by a comma and a conjunction.
4) A dependent clause can be joined to an independent clause with just a conjunction.
5) Two dependent clauses cannot be joined together because the resulting sentence would have no subject.
Run-Ons are everywhere
You probably see sentence fragments every day, even though you shouldn’t. This week, keep an eye out for any run-on sentences you encounter, and quote them on this post as a comment.