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Is this sentence from Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace a run on sentence? My guess is not, but I am not sure.

“(She) says that she's finding it especially hard to take when these earnest ravaged folks at the lectern say they're 'Here But For the Grace of God,' except that's not the strange thing she says, because when Gately nods hard and starts to interject about 'It was the same for--' and wants to launch into a fairly standard Boston AA agnostic-soothing riff about the 'God' in the slogan being just shorthand for a totally subjective and up-to-you 'Higher Power' and AA being merely spiritual instead of dogmatically religious, a sort of benign anarchy of subjective spirit, Joelle cuts off his interjection and says that but that her trouble with it is that 'But For the Grace of God' is a subjunctive, a counterfactual, she says, and can make sense only when introducing a conditional clause, like e.g. 'But For the Grace of God I would have died on Molly Notkin's bathroom floor,' so that an indicative transposition like `I'm here But For the Grace of God' is, she says, literally senseless, and regardless of whether she hears it or not it's meaningless, and that the foamy enthusiasm with which these folks can say what in fact means nothing at all makes her want to put her head in a Radarange at the thought that Substances have brought her to the sort of pass where this is the sort of language she has to have Blind Faith in.”

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closed as too localized by Matt Эллен, Mahnax, simchona, kiamlaluno, RegDwigнt Apr 30 '12 at 10:09

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Asking us to check if something is OK is proofreading, which is off topic as explained in the faq. –  Matt Эллен Apr 28 '12 at 15:25
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It's not a run-on sentence, i.e. there are no illegitimate comma splices. But it is full of other errors and generally awkward and unwieldy. –  Cerberus Apr 28 '12 at 15:34
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Cerberus : What are the errors? –  Adam Apr 28 '12 at 15:42
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I don't think it's a runon sentence, but I'd sure hate to have been given this sentence to diagram! –  JLG Apr 28 '12 at 16:22
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What the faq actually says is that "Please proofread my document ("are there any mistakes in this text?")" is an example of an off topic question. This is 1) not the poster's work, but rather a prominent published author, and 2) the question asks about a specific possible subject, rather than making an open ended request for comments. That doesn't seem at all like proof reading. However the question could probably be improved (and made more clearly on topic) by emphasizing the question of what a run on is, rather than this particular text. –  Henry Apr 28 '12 at 17:45

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I don't think it's exactly a run-on sentence by the standard that our 6th-grade teachers taught us - but it is exactly the sort of sentence we're generally warned not to write, and it's actually a pretty good example of WHY we are warned not to write them. You can get away with this when you get your million-dollar publishing contract, but for the rest of us it's best to follow the rules.

Why did DFW write it this way? Well, he's writing in the voice of a long-term substance abuser - and if you've ever dealt with long-term substance abusers, you'll know that many of them are conversationally challenged in just this way: they ramble. They may have something to say that's worth hearing (depending on how intelligent they were to begin with, and just how many brain cells they've killed along the way), but you are definitely going to have to invest some time and effort into listening and figuring out what the point of it all was. Like DFW's novels, some people will find the process worthwhile, and many others won't.

In the passage you cited, Gately thinks Joelle's problem with AA is atheism, but it's actually grammar: the addicts telling their stories say "I'm here but for the grace of God" when they should be saying "I'm here by the grace of God." It's a very small, slight joke - and DFW tricked me into re-reading that monster of a sentence until I got it. Nice one!

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Great answer! The joke about grammar is why I chose this sentence of his as an example of his style for this question. –  Adam Apr 28 '12 at 21:08

In order to be exactly what's usually classified as a run on sentence, it should be possible to place a period somewhere and thereby obtain two complete sentences. As far as I can tell (though the sentence is hard to parse), there's no such location, just a long string of pieces with various connectives linking them together.

Sentences like that would, however, be terrible writing under most circumstances, even if grammatically correct. As always, good writing and formally correct grammar are correlated, but one can often have one without the other.

In this case, however, the author has written the sentence this way intentionally to capture the experience of talking to the speaker, who speaks in a similar fashion, endlessly stringing new clauses on without giving the listener/reader a chance to pause and make sense of what's been said.

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Great answer but I don't think the style is specific to the character, but rather to the author. See mocking articles of it on the onion for example: theonion.com/articles/… –  Adam May 17 '12 at 3:16

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