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Old 21st October 2011, 03:38 PM   #196 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

As requested,

Understanding Run-On Sentences (and Comma Splices)

A 'run-on sentence' is a sentence which involves two or more independent clauses that aren't joined by appropriate conjunctions or punctuation. I'll try my best to break those concepts down in an easy to understand fashion.

Independent Clause

An independent clause is basically a sentence that makes sense on its own. In its simplest form, an independent clause will contain at least one noun (a 'thing') followed by at least one verb (an 'action'). In lah-dee-dah posh grammar speak these are referred to as a 'subject' (the thing the sentence is about, and the thing that's 'doing' the verb) and a 'predicate' (the bit of the sentence that modifies the thing the sentence is about) respectively. A quick test of whether something's a dependent/subordinate or independent clause is to separate it from your longer, potentially run-on, sentence and see if it makes sense on its own. For instance:

"The fire engine was red and was used to douse the blaze."

What parts of the above example might be a clause? Well, it can't be the 'and' because 'and' is a conjunction (a word used specifically to join two clauses or words). This means it's got to be the stuff around the 'and', so these are our two clauses:

"The fire engine was red"
"was used to douse the blaze."

So which of these two sentences is the independent clause? Are they both independent clauses? To find out, we apply our noun+verb (subject-predicate) rule:

"The fire engine was red": Has both a subject noun (fire engine) and a verb (was). We can tell that the noun in this case is the subject of the verb because it's doing the verb i.e. it's being red.
"was used to douse the blaze.": Has two verbs (was used, to douse) and one object noun (the blaze). We can tell the noun in this case is the object of the verb because it's affected by the verb i.e. it's receiving a dousing.*

We can now see that the first sentence makes sense on its own. It's not very informative, but it does make sense; the subject of the sentence (the doer in the sentence which should be introduced prior to the verb, or it results in passive voice**) is being modified by the verb. Conversely, our second sentence doesn't have a subject at all; it has an object (the blaze) which is being affected (doused) by an unknown subject (? was used). We can see now that our second sentence doesn't make sense at all without reference to the first sentence, so our second sentence isn't an independent clause: it is a subordinate clause (a clause which helps to provide more information about the independent clause, but can't stand on its own).

Joining Independent Clauses

So how, and why, might we join two independent clauses? We might want to join two independent clauses when we want to relate two separate, but interdependent, concepts to one another. For instance, consider the following sentence:

"It was a balmy summer's night, the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."

This is a comma splice (a run-on sentence), so called because we've taken two independent clauses and just shoved them together with no appropriate conjunction. If we examine the sentence above, we can see there are two independent clauses with one on each side of the comma:

"It was a balmy summer's night" subject pronoun (It) + verb (was)
"the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky." subject noun (the clouds) + verb (crawled)

A comma can't be used to join two independent clauses; that's simply not its function. Commas can be used in a vast number of ways, but cramming together independent clauses isn't one of them. Many ways in which a comma can be used are described here (but it's by no means a full list).

So what can we do? We want to link the ideas in both independent clauses, but we don't want to seem like a lazy writer! We have a couple of ways of turning our run-on sentence into a bona fide sentence:

1) Use a semicolon

Semicolons are the brooding, misunderstood punctuation. They're used for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them are uses that link two thematically linked independent clauses and uses that link the items in a complex list (a list whose members contain commas). Solution:

"It was a balmy summer's night; the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."

Here's where we've got to be careful not to overuse semicolons: semicolons can't directly follow one another as punctuation. For instance, if we were to add a third independent clause:

"It was a balmy summer's night, the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky, the fairground ride's lilting lullaby filled the crowd with excitement."

Then it wouldn't be acceptable to just add a third sequential semicolon:

"It was a balmy summer's night; the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky; the fairground ride's lilting lullaby filled the crowd with excitement."

Instead we'd have to find another piece of punctuation or a conjunction!

Really, the criteria for the use of a semicolon should be a slightly more direct relationship between the two independent clauses, but I couldn't think of a particularly good example.

2) Use a conjunction preceded by a comma

A conjunction is a FANBOYS word:


It is used to link two things together, and that includes independent clauses! When we link two independent clauses together with a conjunction, it is proper to precede the conjunction with a comma as so:

"It was a balmy summer's night, and the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."

As with the semicolon, we shouldn't keep this string of conjoined independent clauses going with a comma and conjunction (it's not strictly wrong, but it just sounds awful): eventually we're going to need some different punctuation like...

3) Make them separate sentences

It's also perfectly acceptable to just use a standard fullstop to turn them into two separate sentences. After all, they're both independent clauses and can stand on their own merits:

"It was a balmy summer's night. The clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."

*For those of you who need further explanation about the concept of subjects and objects of a verb, here's an addendum (if you need to clear up your understanding of nouns and pronouns then head to the final point***):

Subjects and Objects

The subject of a verb will typically be introduced before the verb (unless the writer is using the passive voice), and the object will typically be introduced after the verb.

The subject can be thought of as the 'doer' of the verb: the noun in a sentence that's carrying the verb out. For instance:

"He ran"

Is a simple independent clause in which the pronoun (He) is the one doing the verb (ran). Note that, as this uses active voice**, the subject is appearing in the clause before the verb. In an active voice sentence, this is a pretty handy way of telling who the subject of the verb is: it's the noun that comes first! However, in this example it's pretty obvious which noun is the subject because there's only the one noun! Consider the following:

"He ran the application"

Here we've got two nouns ('He' and 'the application'), so we've got to decide which is the subject of the verb and which is the object. Who's the doer? Well, 'He' is the doer because he's the one that's affecting 'the application', namely by causing it to run. 'the application' is the object because it's being affected by him, namely it's being caused to run.

**For those of you who'd like to learn more about active and passive voice

Active vs Passive Voice

Active voice occurs when the subject of a transitive verb (a verb with a direct object) appears before the verb and the object after the verb; passive voice is vice versa. For instance:

"Charlie fired upon the stranger" - Active voice
"The stranger was fired upon by Charlie" - Passive voice

Active voice gives a sense of urgency to the clause and shifts the focus of the clause onto the protagonist. Passive voice places the focus of the clause on the verb's object. At this point, it's worth noting that some editors and professors consider passive voice a serious grammatical editor regardless of the use. This stance is actually incorrect when used in the following ways (it's a form of hypercorrection):

1) When you want to emphasise the object

"Marcus was struck by the stupidity of the comment" -Passive voice

Here we're choosing to use passive voice because the part of the clause which actually interests us is the effect the verb (and its subject) are having upon our protagonist, Marcus. We're not interested in the comment, we're interested in its effect upon Marcus, so we're actively choosing to put the object (Marcus) in the place where one would normally expect the subject to be.

"The stupidity of the comment struck Marcus" - Active voice

Here we end up focussing on the comment, but we're interested in what's going on with Marcus!

2) When you want to de-emphasis an unknown or unclear subject

"Jake was annoyed by his colleagues" -Passive voice

Here we've got a clear idea of who Jake is, but we don't have a clear idea of who his colleagues are, so we de-emphasis them by sticking them in the object position. It's not so much that we're trying to shift focus onto Jake, but rather that we're trying to shift focus away from the subject; a verb whose subject is quickly raised and then ditched might seem a little jarring.

"His colleagues annoyed Jake" - Active voice

Here we end up bringing focus to Jake's colleagues. That's going to be a little odd if this is the only time we ever hear about them.

3) When the subject is irrelevant to the reader

"Michael was taught grammar" - Passive voice

Here we don't need to know who actually taught Michael grammar because it just isn't relevant to the reader, so we choose to leave the subject of the verb out of the clause and shift Michael up to the subject position.

"Mister Jones taught Michael grammar" - Active voice

Here we end up introducing unnecessary information, namely that Michael's grammar teacher was Mister Jones. The reader doesn't need to know anything about who taught Michael grammar, so throwing in this reference just to clear up the passive voice only ends up distracting from the actual plot.

*** Here the differences and uses of nouns and pronouns will be covered:

Nouns and Pronouns

To quickly clear up some terminology, a noun is a word that can act as a subject or an object of a verb. Nouns typically refer to places, things, people or concepts. A pronoun is a word that stands in a noun's stead in a sentence, so that we don't have to continuously retype a noun. Consider:

"Claire had a pair of shoes"

Here, both 'Claire' and 'shoes' are nouns. They're the subject and object respectively of the verb 'had', and they both refer to 'a thing'. We can stick pronouns in their place and the sentence still makes sense:

"She had a pair of those"

Here the pronoun 'She' replaces 'Claire' and 'those' replaces 'shoes'. If we'd previously declared nouns which could obviously be represented by those pronouns, then we'd be justified in using pronouns instead of just retyping the nouns over and over again. So why might we use a pronoun instead of a noun, given the chances for a pronoun-laden sentence to become confusing? Simply put, because an over abundance of nouns can sound horrid:

"Claire had a pair of shoes, and Claire loved her shoes. Claire's shoes were a bright red with pretty little bows glued to the tongues, and Claire's shoes shone with polish."

Uses no pronouns, but we end up hearing 'Claire' and 'shoes' continuously. If we were to declare 'Claire' and 'shoes' and then start using pronouns, we'd get a much better flow:

"Claire had a pair of shoes, and she loved them. They were a bright red with pretty little bows glued to the tongues, and they shone with polish."

Remember, though: Always make sure you've clearly declared your nouns before you start replacing them with pronouns, and if you've got more than one noun in place that could be represented by a given pronoun then make sure you're clearly differentiating between each use!

Last edited by Ashcroft; 21st October 2011 at 03:53 PM. Reason: typo!
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Old 23rd November 2011, 09:25 PM   #197 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Hmm, if I may interject, I may ( or may not!) be able to contribute positively to this thread!

Originally Posted by alchemist View Post
She looked at her feet. "Right now, I'm thinking about just about anything else -- my parents, the planet, quadratic equations..." He saw her glance up, ""
I'm not sure what the rules are on using dashes - but here you are using both dashes *and* elipses to present a pause*. IMO it would be better to stick to one specific convention, rather than use multiple conventions, as it will look more consistent to the reader.

*Actually, are you using the dashes in lieu of a colon? My first reading was that this presented a pause in the dialogue, not a separation before a fragment.

Additionally, we are paying attention to two different characters, given by the male and female pronouns. My expectation would be to break these up into separate paragraphs to ensure we are clear on the POV, as both can be construed to be different POV, or the POV of one character looking at two different things best separated (I'm possibly being aesthetic here rather than anything and subject to correction).

The one thing not so much subject to correction is the use of elipses - so far as I understand it, an elipsis should always have a space between it and a word, but run against punctuation, ie:

[word] ... [word]
[word] ...,

An elipsis at the end of a sentence would run against both the full stop and the punctuation marks, ie:

[word] ...."

Once you introduce the male pronoun I don't think you can have a comma before the following dialogue section (... you) as that implies it is the male speaking, not female, as he is being directly associated with it via the comma. However, a full stop may render the paragraph as less sensical due to the lower case following, hence another argument for breaking it up.

So in the above example, I would expect to see it render nearer:

She looked at her feet. "Right now, I'm thinking about just about anything else: my parents, the planet, quadratic equations ..."

He saw her glance up.


Even if you do keep it in the current single paragraph, you'll need to change the comma for a full stop at the end of 'glance up' to show that it's not him speaking.

Hope that helps, though am happy to be subject to correction - I know there are people far more knowledgeable on general grammar and punctuation and I may have mis-construed a couple of things.
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Old 5th February 2012, 03:39 PM   #198 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Any help with the subjunctive (I think it's the subjunctive)?

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I should be writing: 'If I were a Grammar God, I would know all about the subjunctive.' etc. but I've got stuck on things like:

'He looked at me as if I was an idiot'

'I felt as if I was carrying the whole city'

'I decided I was real, and, if I was real, then so was the house.'

'I lay trying to work out if I could move... trying to decide if I was dead'

So search and replace is not my friend, and since I'm not very sure what the rules are... I'm stuck.

EDIT: Ah ha! Is it because of the conditional? So: 'If I were a Grammar God...' (because obviously I'm not), and 'If I was rather confused' (because I am), so my examples are okay as 'was' because... um... they're not really conditional + negative. Right?

Last edited by Hex; 5th February 2012 at 04:36 PM.
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Old 5th February 2012, 05:02 PM   #199 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

I don't think it's as simple as that, but blow me if I know the rules. I can usually feel which is right, though.

But very few people use the subjunctive. I know about it and I certainly don't use it in everyday speech. So you have to ask yourself if the character would use it, and if this is for DC since it's written in first person, then what she would use is what you have to follow, not what the correct form might be.

EDIT: my ODE says:

The subjunctive is a special form (or mood) of a verb expressing a wish or possibility instead of fact. It is used to express situations which are hypothetical or not yet realized [sic] and is typically used for what is imagined, hoped for, demanded or expected. In English [it] is fairly uncommon... mainly because most of the functions of the subjunctive are covered by modal verbs such as might, could and should.
It then lists examples and typical usages, such as after as, as if, as though, unless, in certain fixed expressions ("come what may") and "be or were at the beginning of a clause with the subject following" ie "Were I to leave the house, I might be arrested."
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Old 5th February 2012, 05:04 PM   #200 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Oh, good idea.

(she's probably better educated than I am... and I'm sure the Professor uses the subjunctive)
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Old 5th February 2012, 05:33 PM   #201 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

At the risk of receiving something nasty in the post from Switzerland (), perhaps I should quote the Third Edition (1931) of The King's English (Fowler & Fowler), page 163 of the 1973 paperback:
We have purposely refrained until now from invoking the subjunctive, because the word is almost meaningless to Englishmen**, the thing having so nearly perished.
And then, on page 166:
The use of true subjunctive forms (if he be, though it happen) in conditional sentences is for various reasons not recommended. These forms, with the single exception of were, are perishing so rapidly that an experienced word-actuary*** puts their expectation of life at one generation. As a matter of style, they should be avoided, being certain to give a pretentious air when handled by anyone except the skilful and practiced writers who need no advice from us. And as a matter of grammar, the instinct for using subjunctives rightly is dying with the subjunctive, so that even the still surviving were is often used where it is completely wrong.
I'm so pleased that my WiPs - the Earth-set bits, that is - are set in the near future, not pre-1931.

** - I've have noticed your gender and location, Hex, but this is a direct quote.

*** - Dr Henry Bradley, The Making of English, p.53.
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Old 5th February 2012, 05:35 PM   #202 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Fantastic. So I can ignore the whole thing? Goody.
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Old 8th February 2012, 05:23 PM   #203 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Death to subjunctives! English is a non-inflected language of the West Germanic group, originally spoken by enormous, beer drinking men with huge beards who feared nothing (including death at the hands of Grendel's mother) and flaxen haired ladies who could milk the pigs whilst dandling a child and producing illuminated manuscipts the like of which the world had never seen.

To try and fix Latinate rules of grammar onto such a tongue is akin to trying to drive a combine harvester through the eye of a needle.


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Old 8th February 2012, 05:52 PM   #204 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Hm, I thought the rules of English grammar originated from Latin?
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Old 9th February 2012, 10:10 AM   #205 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Fair enough - but there is a half-serious point behind it all.

The rules of middle and modern English grammar do indeed conform to Latinate rules. As a direct result of the Norman Conquest, English was open to massive influence from the tongue which later became French - a Romance (rather than a Germanic) language. Romance languages are all based in Latin (and Greek), but Germanic languages are not generally so tied.

The inherent problem is that the rules necessary for the clear use of an inflected language like Latin often do not fit with a non-inflected language like English, which has no need for many of those rules due to the fact that meaning is gathered primarily from word order rather than from word endings. Rules are needed in inflected languages so that the sentence "Plastic kicks ball Brian a blue" makes perfect sense and conveys the idea that you are kicking a blue, plastic ball.

Some of the rules can be made to fit. But when it comes to things like subjunctives, gerundives and even cases, we are drifting into fairly esoteric territory to say the least!

This is why I (pretend to) favour a return to Old English!


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Old 5th March 2012, 09:42 PM   #206 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Your spellchecker won't help you.

When I'm not hammering commas into all interstices, or complaining about them in splices, or the occasional possessive apostrophe, I spend a fair – no, actually a completely unfair – amount of my critiques time bullying homophones. I should probably have left this article to the bear, who specialises in them (generating them, that is, rather than correcting them) but since he doesn't seem to have seen fit…

The English language developed from a marriage between two indo-european roots, already polluted with Celtic and Scandinavian influences, one Germanic and one Latin based, and spent the next nine hundred years steal – adopting extra words from any other languages it came in contact with, or, when all else failed, inventing new ones.

Which explains why it is the most flexible, diverse and synonym-rich means of communication on the planet, but also why its spelling is frequently somewhat illogical, and the fact that a number of sets of words, coming from different origins by convergent evolution, can sound exactly the same while having completely different meanings.

Which is fine when they're {there, their} spelt the same; but this is not always the case.

I'm not going to attempt to point out all of them; the list at has over four hundred and forty groups (and misses "canon–cannon", which leaves me wondering if I have been pronouncing one of them incorrectly for years, or should be checking for other oversights, or citing othersites), most of them pairs/pears/pares, but some triples and quadruples, but draw attention to the more common reoffenders. I suspect anyone who chooses to use the word "caul", for example, is not going to get it confused with "call".

Probably the most common (and illogical enough to be accepted as an example of English grammar) is the possessive "its" that lacks the apostrophe, "it's" being reserved for contractions (usually "it is", but occasionally "it has"). "Whose/who's" is the same case, but less frequently used. Then "your/you're" (we won't bother about "yore" or "yaw" right now), which at least one long-term Chronite has not yet mastered (or possibly doesn't know where the ' key is [difficult if you keep changing keyboards]) Everybody's missed a "to/two/too" at some time, and I own up to having posted a "hear" for a "here"; your fingers know the word exists, your eyes and spell checker say it's spelled wright; and, of course, it is. Its just knot thee write whirred. two bee shore. (Hmm, they didn't get "shore/sure/Shaw", either, nor "whirred"),

For some reason "peek", a sly glance, and "peak" the top bit of a mountain get frequently confused, as do "through" and "threw" (how did those end up sounding the same?).

Not all of the problems are genuine homophones, of course; sometimes they don't even sound the same. Using "then" for "than", for example, or "where" (in which location, homophones wear and ware) for "were" (past tense plural of the verb "to be – yes, I know, but technically "you" are plural and "thou" art singular – which nobody would spell "whirr"). Or the use of of "of" instead of "have" when decontracting "would've".

We are politely tolerant to Hope as she bakes flower (or doesn't bawl) (it's all right, I asked permission to take the mick) but I wonder if any of us really understand what it must be like not having that little flash of "that's not right" light up behind our eyebawls? (well, possibly not all like me, where it can dazzle out a fair percentage of reading). And we all do it, anyway. Hey, word processor developers, how about a "this is in my homophones directory, highlight and click on it and you get dictionary function telling you what the word means" as is in my Kindle? A whole lot more use to writers than some of your grammar rules and the like.

Postscript:- "Chute/shoot", and what are they doing with "cymbol" for "cymbal"? "Passed" and "past" give regular problems, "pray/prey", and I've seen "warred" written as "ward". No, this list I've come up with is not adequate.
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Old 6th March 2012, 06:31 AM   #207 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Originally Posted by Ashcroft View Post
2) Use a conjunction preceded by a comma .... "It was a balmy summer's night, and the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."
I was taught UK English and have always believed that conjunctions don't need a preceding comma. Later, I came to understand that U.S. English uses the leading comma.

Personally, I find a comma followed by a conjunction to be a little hic-coughy and use 'em only when I am breaking a thought.
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Old 7th March 2012, 01:26 PM   #208 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox


There are no rules as to:-

1. Length of novel

2. Fitting a particular genre

3. The number of subplots you can have

4. The number of characters you can have

5. Needing a prologue in fantasy

6. Pretty much anything else

The only thing that matters is that you can tell a good story in an entertaining and clear way. You can headhop, info dump, tell not show and do anything else you please, provided you are still telling a good story in an entertaining and clear way.

Many writers find it much more difficult to achieve this aim if they are headhopping etc, but there are no bans, no rules and no hidden ceremonies in which the Secrets of Writing are revealed to cloaked cabals of bearded men and women with wooden bangles.

It's all about the story.


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Old 21st May 2012, 09:56 PM   #209 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

My God I just read through this thread to help me with my poorly-lacking writing skills and I have to say you guys are completely brilliant!

This has been a gold mine! A bible to how writing should be!

I am so glad I checked this out
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Old 21st May 2012, 10:42 PM   #210 (permalink)
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Re: The Toolbox

Ah. Another satisfied customer...
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