A quick note before we begin: I’m positively elated to have teamed up with Tumblr all-star The YUNiversity for this post! Everybody knows that eye-popping visuals are a great boon to students trying to learn otherwise dry material, and nobody does them better. If you like the illustrations he provided for this post, you simply must make a habit of checking his site every day. He’s amazing.

Ok, now. If you want to understand run-on sentences, first you have to understand the difference between a sentence and a fragment. Both are similar in that they contain a subject and a verb, but a sentence can stand on its own as a complete thought, and a fragment cannot. Fragments seem to end abruptly, and leave you wanting to ask something like “…and then what?” To make things super clear in this post, in the examples below complete thoughts will be in green and fragments will be in brown.#

It’s easier to show this than to try to describe it, so here are some fragments. As you look them over, ask yourself “What is it about these that prevents them from standing alone as complete sentences?”

  • even though his fans booed him
  • when the cows come home
  • because her mother was in jail for grand theft auto
  • while you were sleeping
  • to whomever the taser belonged

None of the above are complete thoughts — they’re the beginnings or the ends of thoughts, but mean very little on their own. On the SAT, if you see a fragment trying to be a sentence all by itself, you have to fix it. Fragments are always wrong on the SAT.

A run-on (or “comma splice,” if you like) is kinda the opposite problem. If you come across a comma that’s separating two complete thoughts, that’s a run-on. Like fragments, run-ons are always wrong and you need to fix them.

A run-on looks like this:
Two complete thoughts separated by a comma? NO ME GUSTA.
To fix a run-on:

USE CONJUNCTIONS.
(FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

WRONG: My father smokes cigars, everything in our house smells like cigars.
RIGHT: My father smokes cigars, so everything in our house smells like cigars.

WRONG: The other day my favorite episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was on, I didn’t watch it.
RIGHT: The other day my favorite episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was on, but I didn’t watch it.

WRONG: Corey stayed up until 2:00 AM last night, she’s feeling very tired today as a result.
RIGHT: Corey stayed up until 2:00 AM last night, and she’s feeling very tired today as a result.

USE SEMICOLONS.
(BE CAREFUL!!! On the SAT, semicolons REQUIRE complete thoughts on either side.
If there’s a fragment on one side of the semicolon, it’s wrong.)

WRONG: Make sure your zombie survival hideout is stocked with weapons that can pierce a human skull, the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain.
RIGHT: Make sure your zombie survival hideout is stocked with weapons that can pierce a human skull; the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain.

WRONG: The hardest part of the SAT for many students is its length, the test is almost four hours long.
RIGHT: The hardest part of the SAT for many students is its length; the test is almost four hours long.

WRONG: Yesterday I played laser tag, I won first place three times in a row against a bunch of 14 year olds.
RIGHT: Yesterday I played laser tag; I won first place three times in a row against a bunch of 14 year olds.

BREAK THE KNEECAPS OF ONE SIDE (CLAUSE FIX).
(If one side isn’t a complete thought anymore, problem solved!)

WRONG: Students at Brown University call themselves Brunonians, it’s weird.
RIGHT: Students at Brown University call themselves Brunonians, which is weird.

WRONG: The flashing lights kept me up at night, I had to move the router out of my bedroom.
RIGHT: Because the flashing lights kept me up at night, I had to move the router out of my bedroom.

WRONG: The developers’ commentary in Portal 2 is very enjoyable, however* players should play through the game without it first.
RIGHT: Although the developers’ commentary in Portal 2 is very enjoyable, players should play through the game without it first.

* The word “however” is NOT a conjunction and cannot be used to fix a run-on. If it’s not one of the FANBOYS, don’t use it as a conjunction. Click here for more on words like “however.”

USE A PERIOD.
(In real life, yes of course. On the SAT Sentence Improvement section though, this is never an option. The sentence you’re improving is always going to remain ONE sentence.)

Shall we summarize?

On the SAT Sentence Improvement section, when you see a comma (yes, every time) you must ask yourself:

Read about Dangling Modifiers, Broseph. 

And don’t forget! Whenever you see a semicolon, you must ask yourself:

Think you’ve got all this? Try a drill, brochacho!
  1. You might not know his name but you probably know his work, Stan Lee is the creator of some of the best known comic book superheroes.
    1. You might not know his name but you proabably know his work, Stan Lee
    2. Although not a household name himself, Stan Lee
    3. You might not know his name and you probably know his work, but Stan Lee
    4. Stan Lee, who you might not know but probably you heard of his work,
    5. You probably know his work but you might not know his name, Stan Lee

     

  2. One of the most well known pieces of classical music is Carl Orff’s O Fortuna, it has been featured in such various and sundry movies as The Hunt for Red October and Jackass.
    1. O Fortuna, it has been featured
    2. O Fortuna; which has been featured
    3. O Fortuna, which has been featured
    4. O Fortuna, it can be heard
    5. O Fortuna, yet it has appeared

     

  3. Located on a hill overlooking Harlem, The City College of New York, the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States, featuring many beautiful buildings.
    1. York, the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States, featuring
    2. York was the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States, it features
    3. York was the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States and features
    4. York, the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States; it features
    5. York was the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States; featuring

     

  4. There was no room to stand in the small theater by the time Jaymay took the stage; word had spread quickly that the songstress’s intimate performances were not to be missed.
    1. by the time Jaymay took the stage; word had spread quickly that
    2. by the time Jaymay took the stage; word spreading quick that
    3. when Jaymay arrived on stage, word having spread about
    4. when Jaymay took the stage, people had heard that
    5. by the time Jaymay arrived on stage; people knowing that

 

Answers (scroll down for detailed explanations):
1. B
2. C
3. C
4. A

But why wasn’t ___ right?!
(I’m going to try to color-code these as best I can, and put my comments in red. I hope the result is not a completely incomprehensible cacophony of color.)
        1. You might not know his name but you probably know his work, Stan Lee is the creator of some of the best known comic book superheroes.
          1. You might not know his name but you proabably know his work, Stan Lee (Complete thoughts on both sides of a comma. Run-on.)
          2. Although not a household name himself, Stan Lee
          3. You might not know his name and you probably know his work, but Stan Lee (The “and” is no good here — we need a contrast word. If we HAD a contrast word, we’d still have a run-on.)
          4. Stan Lee, who you might not know but probably you heard of his work, (Even if you can get by the general wordiness of this, you can’t forgive the tense issue. Should be “…you have heard…”)
          5. You probably know his work but you might not know his name, Stan Lee (Run-on!)

           

        2. One of the most well known pieces of classical music is Carl Orff’s O Fortuna, it has been featured in such various and sundry movies as The Hunt for Red October and Jackass.
          1. O Fortuna, it has been featured (Run-on! Two complete thoughts separated only by a comma!)
          2. O Fortuna; which has been featured (Ruh-roh Shaggy! That’s a semicolon, so we need complete thoughts on both sides of it! We don’t have that!)
          3. O Fortuna, which has been featured (Now we’re good because we have a complete thought on only the left side of the comma.)
          4. O Fortuna, it can be heard (Run-on!)
          5. O Fortuna, yet it has appeared (this would be fine except the conjunction “yet” is the wrong conjunction. It implies an element of surprise that is completely inappropriate here. If it’s a very well known piece, it’s no surprise that it’s been in movies!)

           

        3. Located on a hill overlooking Harlem, The City College of New York, the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States, featuring many beautiful buildings.
          1. York, the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States, featuring (That’s one big ol’ fragment, pal! No main verb!)
          2. York was the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States, it features (Now you’ve got two complete thoughts separated by a comma. Run-on!)
          3. York was the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States and features (Lovely. Special note: you don’t need a comma when the thought before the conjunction and the one after it have the same subject — in our case, City College.)
          4. York, the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States; it features (Not a complete thought before the semicolon = WRONG.)
          5. York was the first free public institution of higher learning in the United States; featuring (Not a complete thought after the semicolon also = WRONG.)

           

        4. There was no room to stand in the small theater by the time Jaymay took the stage; word had spread quickly that the songstress’s intimate performances were not to be missed.
          1. by the time Jaymay took the stage; word had spread quickly that (Complete thought + semicolon + complete thought = EPIC WIN.)
          2. by the time Jaymay took the stage; word spreading quick that (Fragment after the semicolon doesn’t work, but note also that word spreads quickly, so this one has two problems.)
          3. when Jaymay arrived on stage, word having spread about (I don’t want to color-code that bit. There’s a very strange thing going on with the second half that makes me very uncomfortable. I’m just gonna back away slowly.)
          4. when Jaymay took the stage, people had heard that (Run-on!)
          5. by the time Jaymay arrived on stage; people knowing that (Fragment after the semicolon. That’s bad.)
# What we’re really talking about here, if you want to get technical, is the difference between dependent and independent clauses. A dependent clause DEPENDS on something, so it can’t stand on its own. Dependent clauses are fragments. Independent clauses can stand on their own as complete sentences. Every time you see “complete thought” in this post, we’re really talking about an independent clause. As for the color schemeindependent clauses are green, and dependent clauses are brown