Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Run-On Sentences (2).

Run-On Sentences (2). Today: The Distinction. The distinction between a true run-on sentence and a comma splice can be helpful in differentiating between the wholly unacceptable (the former) and the usually-but-not-always unacceptable (the latter). That is, most usage authorities accept comma splices when (1) the clauses are short and closely related, (2) there is no danger of a miscue, and (3) the context is informal. Thus: “Jane likes him, I don’t.” But even when all three criteria are met, some readers are likely to object. And in any event, a dash or a semicolon seems preferable to a comma in a sentence like that one. Unjustified comma splices are uncommon in nonfiction writing, but they do sometimes occur — e.g.: “The remnants of Hurricane Opal will move north through the Tennessee Valley as a tropical storm this morning. Winds near the center of the storm will diminish rapidly, however, wind gusts over 60 miles an hour will persist around the storm center.” “Weather Report,” N.Y. Times, 5 Oct. 1995, at B8. In that sentence, the mispunctuation makes for an ambiguous modifier because “however” could go with either the clause before or the clause after. The context suggests that the reading should be with a semicolon after “rapidly.” The best edit would be to replace “however” with “but” — and to delete the comma after it. For information about the Language-Change Index, click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “The first thought in constructing any paragraph (after the opening paragraph) is to make a link of connection with what goes before. This connecting link comes at the very beginning as an introduction to the topic sentence; and takes the form of a summary, or more frequently of a connective word or phrase.” John F. Genung, Outlines of Rhetoric 228-29 (1893).
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