This post is a part of the essential toolkit of grammar knowledge I feel all kids should have. The following parts can be found here: the subject, the predicate, the simple sentence, the compound sentence, the complex sentence, sentence fragments, and run-on sentences.
Do run-on sentences just run on, and on, and on? Well, yes and no. Run-on sentences are sentences that have not had all their parts (clauses) joined together with FANBOYS/; or AAAWWUBBIS. Most teachers have seen the epic, paragraph-long sentence, but short sentences can be run-on sentences as well. Here are some examples.
I ate cookies, she ate mangoes, we both had coffee.
It’s the best game ever, you know, you can build what you want, you don’t even need to worry about dying because you’re not competing with anyone.
Let’s now fix them, with predicates underlined and FANBOYS/AAAWWUBBIS in bold.
I ate cookies, and she ate mangoes. We both had coffee.
It’s the best game ever, you know. You can build what you want, and you don’t even need to worry about dying because you’re not competing with anyone.
The thing about run-on sentences is that there are often many ways to repair them. Writers will make different choices, and they might even allow some run-on sentences to, well, run-on.
But students need to have a grasp of what they’re trying to say. Verbal diarrhea is bad enough. There’s no need to put it all down on paper.
This is one of the main criticisms of a “sounds right” approach to teaching writing. Students need to be exposed to a lot of correct English, both written and spoken, before they can effectively trust their ears. Even then, speaking and writing are two very different applications of language. Speaking is natural, and the vast majority of us develop this ability without formal language instruction. But writing is entirely artificial. That’s why it took humans so long to figure out how to do it. Even then, we only developed writing independently a couple of times.
I have found that my students who develop a basic oral fluency very quickly are often the students that struggle most with organizing their writing. Measures such as getting them to read out their work and listen for errors can help a bit, but if they were writing down what they were saying in the first place, it’s not much help.
Indeed that’s why ELLs can benefit from some explicit grammar instruction at the sentence level to help them organize their writing. Students also need to be consuming as much written English as possible. The old adage, good writers are good readers is true.
I made it through university with an ashamedly limited understanding of grammar. But I pulled off all the writing partly because I’ve always loved reading. While it is true I have enjoyed writing in my spare time, my parents’ first language and the language of my home growing up was English. These experiences enabled me to “hear” more correctly than English language learners.
The world is changing, and we need to be cognizant of the types of monolingual and English assumptions that guide so much of international education overseas and public education in the Anglo-Saxon countries. A knee jerk refusal to teach some grammar to English language learners presumes considerable linguistic privilege. My considerable experience with ELL students has clearly shown me that my best writers have always been the students who were most aware of what they were doing with their sentences.
I started this series with the wish that all students were aware of the following elements of sentence grammar: the subject, the predicate, the simple sentence, the compound sentence, the complex sentence, sentence fragments, run-on sentences. I hope it has offered some fresh perspective and encouragement for teachers out there. Like I said, I left university without knowing that am, are, and is are forms of the verb to be. Who knows how much better a writer I might have been with the hard-earned knowledge I’ve just shared!