(TW, depression related stuff?)

In my AP Lang class, we've recently started an activity called Visiting Author, where a student does a cold read of a piece they wrote and the others give criticism and suggestions either out loud or on paper. I volunteered to read a poem I had written about my life. Afterwards, during the suggestions and reading over people's thoughts, I noticed a few people criticized my use of run-on sentences.

Example One, directly from my piece:

i vomited up equations and

heaved tears into my pillows

when i heard my mother say,

"i'm disappointed,"

because the numbers always needed

to be higher

except when it came to the

milligrams of medication,

pulvules of prozac replacing my pupils,

dependency on my happy pills

does not dare affect

the prodigy.

Example Two:

coddled by trauma, taught to walk

by mental breakdowns mislabeled as

temper tantrums,

and at the tender age of nine

in the fifth house i'd lived in

the manifestations of my illness

wrapped a belt around my neck

and tried to silence me,

but i didn't have time.

Are these sentences "bad", or confusing? Are run-ons always a bad idea, or can they be effective? Is my use of run-on sentences effective?

  • 1
    I see fragments and run ons used in published fiction and contributing to 'voice.' I believe they must be used intentionally for a specific effect.
    – SFWriter
    Feb 6, 2019 at 22:40
  • 1
    I agree with DPT. As long as it there for a purpose, it's fine. Especially in poetry - some of my favorite poets don't use punctuation at all. In this case, it gives a sense of endlessness, breathlessness, you can't pause to think. It gives the reader a taste of the way you feel.
    – Gwendolyn
    Feb 6, 2019 at 23:54

2 Answers 2


Run on sentences are sentences without a pause. No place to take a breath.

By using what might otherwise be a run on sentence as free verse poetry, you are creating those pauses.

You have some commas in there, which always helps, but it's the line breaks that really give you a place to breathe. Commas alone (or commas plus dashes and semi-colons) aren't enough breathing space for a very long expression. You need those periods. A line break (or stanza break) isn't punctuation per say, but it acts as such in a poem.

Poems don't have to conform to the same grammar restrictions of prose.

Giving the illusion of a single thought without a break, while simultaneously providing those breaks, is a very effective use of language.


BLUF: run-on sentences aren't necessarily a bad thing. LOTS of run -ons, however, are very distracting.

I teach acting, and we often do cold reads. Some of my students are "Grammar Nazis." I tell them that the written word has rules of grammar. The spoken word has rules of grammar, which differ from those of written grammar.

Not being a poetry person, I am still inclined to say that poetry has its own form of grammar.

Whenever possible, I have my students critique each other, just as your English teacher has done. It is a very useful tool. Your post reminds me of some things I have heard in my classes. This is what I say:
Was this their honest opinion, or were they being jerks?
Oftentimes, someone will make a comment that is an honest opinion, but not worded well.

Ex: "You have a run on sentence," could actually mean "That sentence was so long and confusing I couldn't understand it."
The latter is a very useful comment. As a writer, don't you want your audience to understand what you have written?

It is also possible that the comment came from a person who really is a Grammar Nazi and won't be happy with it unless it is formatted EXACTLY the way he/she thinks it should be.

What I read in your question is that you may be bothered by their comments. If so, that is an indication that you know something is not quite right about that passage. In which case, re-write it and/or ask other people about it until it "feels" right to you.

So, to answer your question, run-on sentences aren't necessarily a bad thing. LOTS of run -ons, however, are very distracting.

  • Welcome to the Writing Stack Exchange! Just a soft recommendation -- echo your last line (the yes/no answer) at the top of your answer. You certainly don't have to -- that is really just a recommendation based on my own preferences. I think it makes for a better answer.
    – user19004
    Feb 7, 2019 at 5:56

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