Run-on sentences are the scourge of effective communication. Run-ons are long, confusing and annoy readers. They should be eliminated from all writing, whether you’re composing a note to your friend, a school paper or a professional document. Thankfully, run-ons are easy to find and even easier to correct. Technically, run-on sentences are created when two or more independent clauses are joined incorrectly.

Spot Run-Ons

Read this example sentence out loud: “Brian loves to swim he competes on the swim team.” Did you naturally want to pause between “swim” and “he” while reading? That’s your first clue that this sentence is a run-on. If you read your writing out loud, you’re more likely to catch run-on sentences.

Identify the sentence’s subject and verb. Here we have two subjects (“Brian” and “he”) and two verbs (“loves” and “competes”), indicating that we’re really dealing with two independent clauses that have been improperly connected.

Check your commas. Run-ons are often caused by mistakes in comma usage, called a comma splice. A comma splice looks like this: “Brian loves to swim, he competes on the swim team.” Commas alone can’t be used to connect two independent clauses. Since we’ve already determined that these two clauses can stand alone as complete sentences, this is also a run-on sentence.

Fix Run-Ons

Correct any run-ons you find. Fortunately, this sentence is easy to fix, using one of three strategies. You can simply divide it into two sentences, like so: “Brian loves to swim. He competes on the swim team.” Remember to change the first letter of the new sentence to a capital. Instead of a period, you can also use a question mark or exclamation point if that’s appropriate for the meaning of your sentence.

Keep the comma and add an appropriate conjunction (words like “and,” “but,” and “or”). This is another way to correct a run-on sentence. Using that fix, the sentence would look like this: “Brian loves to swim, so he competes on the swim team.” The comma should always go before the conjunction.

Consider a semicolon. Just put the semi-colon in place of the comma and leave the capitalization alone. “Brian loves to swim; he competes on the swim team.” Viola! Your run-on has been corrected with a minimum of effort.