0

For example, this reddit post's title seems like it might be a run-on sentence, or at least have too much punctuation breaking it apart.

The sentence is:

For the first time, ants have been seen self-medicating - on food rich in hydrogen peroxide - to fight off fungal infection.

My sense is that the proper way to write it is to remove all the punctuation cruft:

For the first time ants have been seen self-medicating on food rich in hydrogen peroxide to fight off fungal infection.

I'm afraid that it would be considered a run-on sentence. However, if I rewrite it as multiple sentences it seems needlessly long:

For the first time ants have been seen self-medicating. They eat food rich in hydrogen peroxide to fight off fungal infection.

Is there a rule to determine whether a sentence like this is grammatically correct, or is it a stylistic (i.e., opinion-based) issue?

5

There's nothing wrong with the original sentence, and it's not punctuated incorrectly. (And punctuation is not "cruft," as you call it. Properly used, punctuation exists to help a reader make sense of written symbols without the intonation or stress markers of speech.)

Multi-word introductory adverbial phrases are correctly set off with a comma, to enhance readability. Otherwise the reader might initially think there was such a thing as first time ants, and then have to make a mental correction.

The phrase on food rich in hydrogen peroxide is correctly set off with the dashes to indicate that it is the first time the ants have been self-medicating (which, by the way, they did with food rich in hydrogen peroxide). Otherwise, they'd be saying that it was the first time the ants have been self-medicating on food rich in hydrogen peroxide (although they might have self-medicated on something else some other time).

  • Of course it's always possible (if perverse) to interpret the "cruft-less" version as implying that ants have often been seen self-medicating on food rich in hydrogen peroxide. But always for other reasons, whereas this is the first time they've been seen specifically doing this [in order] to fight off fungal infection. – FumbleFingers Aug 21 '15 at 16:24
3

A run-on sentence is two or more sentences without any punctuation between them.

E.g. "It is raining now we must hurry home" instead of "It is raining now. We must hurry home".

So the example sentence is not a run-on sentence.

The phrases "For the first time" and "on food rich in hydrogen peroxide" could be removed and the sentence would still be complete. However, these two phrases are not sentences themselves and so need to be delineated with punctuation. The technical term is these are subordinate clauses.

I think commas rather than dashes are better around "on food rich in hydrogen peroxide", but dashes are perhaps seen as appropriate in journalistic usage, as the example is.

  • 1
    I think that if there are any sentences in English where it's appropriate to use dashes, the OP's sentence is is one of them. But commas work, too. – Peter Shor Aug 21 '15 at 16:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.