Following up on Wednesday’s post about the many-splendored semicolon, I want to shed a little light on the frequently cited but completely misunderstood “run-on sentence.”
In the advertising/marketing/PR/communications world, brevity reigns supreme—an admirable trait, to be sure, but not necessarily an inherent good. I get it, of course. “Omit needless words” is one of Strunk & White’s Elementary Principles of Composition, after all. But sometimes, a thought requires more than half a dozen words.
Consider Whittaker Chambers’s review of Dr. Zhivago, in which he writes:
“Reading it is more like taking, under compulsion, a very long journey, about which you begin to suspect, from the general route, scenery and comments by the way, that, after you have got wherever it is you are going, you will not have got much of anywhere.”
There’s a certain type of person who recoils at stuff like this. I like to call them “illiterate.”
Now I’ve written sentences a lot like that one, and when I do, nine times out of ten some editor or proofreader or account executive sends it back with the instruction to “fix the run-on sentence.”
The thing is, it’s not. It’s a long sentence, but it’s not a run-on sentence. The two are not at all the same.
A run-on sentence is an error in which two or more independent clauses are joined by a comma (rather than a conjunction or semicolon). It’s also called a fused sentence; the offending comma is called a comma splice.
So, in the case of run-on sentences, size really doesn’t matter.