Thursday, January 26, 2006

Stop saying long sentences are run-on sentences they aren't run-on sentences

I should really stop promising to do things, shouldn't I?

One of the things I've noticed when reading Amazon.com user reviews (I know. . .I lead an exciting life) is that any book (usually a scholarly work) which has long sentences is accused of having "run-on sentences." This simply isn't the case.

I know it's not very interesting to be angered by this, but it does sort of annoy me to see this clear misnomer. Are the people of the world's education systems just letting all of us down?

A run-on sentence is when you run two sentences together without providing any connection in the way of punctuation or a cunjunction or what have you. They can be awfully short. The dog hates the cat it is mad. That was a run-on sentence.

But the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence is not.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.


Yeeeeah! That's not even a COMPOUND sentence. It's a COMPLEX sentence to be sure, but there's only one proper sentence in there, which boils down to "respect requires."

But, see, nobody knows that. So they think Tom Jefferson was dumb and couldn't write.

It sickens me that I'm good at this. But you need people like me if you expect to decipher this bastardized language.

3 comments:

Moses said...

I thought the root sentence of "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation" was "It becomes."

However, you're the copy editor, not I.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Actually, no. . .

"It becomes" is part of the clause that opens the sentence.

Take out all of the words in between and you have "when it becomes ..."

Which is a clause because it can't stand on its own.

I'll diagram it for you sometime!

Doesn't THAT sound fun?

Moses said...

Ahh, now I see. The confusion arose from the comma after "events." I took that to mean that the first part was a prepositional phrase to itself, separate from "it becomes." Commas can be very misleading.