Running on at the mouth

A student working on two stories this week was quoting a lot of sources but having trouble rendering those quotes correctly. Three examples:

“It is not the responsibility of the city to enforce an immigration policy, that is the responsibility of the federal government.”

“Even for the businesses here, they have to start paying the minimum wage, people have to understand that people have to live with minimum wage.”

“But drugs will always be an issue, there is a poor community here that always needs attention.”

As written, each of these quotes is a run-on — that is, a sentence that contains multiple independent clauses that could (and should) be separate sentences. Run-ons are so named because they breathlessly run on from one thought to the next to the next without proper punctuation, making it hard for the reader come up for air. (The headline of this post is an idiom; it means talking too much.)

The easiest way to fix a run-on is usually to break it into two independent sentences:

“It is not the responsibility of the city to enforce an immigration policy. That is the responsibility of the federal government.”

“Even for the businesses here, they have to start paying the minimum wage. People have to understand that people have to live with minimum wage.”

“But drugs will always be an issue. There is a poor community here that always needs attention.

Ideally, a sentence should express one complete thought. Yes, complex sentences have dependent clauses, but they contribute to the meaning of the main clause.

Never connect two clauses with a comma, and preferably not with a dash; that’s how run-ons are created. Semicolons and colons may join two clauses to highlight their relationship. A case could be made for a semicolon in the first example:

“It is not the responsibility of the city to enforce an immigration policythat is the responsibility of the federal government.”

A colon between two clauses indicates that the second follows from the first, as in this quote from another student:

“We are in our bubble, and nothing affects us because we think it’s not going to happen to us. But it is already happening: when they touched the 43, they touched us all.”

We don’t use punctuation when we speak, so speech may sometimes sound like run-ons. But we don’t have to write it that way.

 

 

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