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I am reading The Old Man and the Sea.

Some time before daylight something took one of the baits that were behind him. He heard the stick break and the line begin to rush out over the gunwale of the skiff. In the darkness he loosened his sheath knife and taking all the strain of the fish on his left shoulder he leaned back and cut the line against the wood of the gunwale. Then he cut the other line closest to him and in the dark made the loose ends of the reserve coils fast. He worked skillfully with the one hand and put his foot on the coils to hold them as he drew his knots tight. Now he had six reserve coils of line. There were two from each bait he had severed and the two from the bait the fish had taken and they were all connected.

I interpret it as:

In the darkness he loosened his sheath knife and taking all the strain of the fish on his left shoulder, he leaned back and cut the line against the wood of the gunwale.

Chatgpt told me it is a "run-on" sentence and there are independent clauses which should split by correct punctuation. (Chatgpt told me it was correct the first time)

So I think a comma is needed in front of "he leaned back".

Need some confirmation, thanks.

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    You can join as many sentences as you like with the word and. You could make War and Peace a one sentence novel containing thousands of ands and technically your one sentence would not be a run-on. The novel, however, would be even harder to read and understand. The more applicable question is, Is the sentence clear? Your part about the comma is probably better asked as a separate question.
    – EllieK
    Apr 20, 2023 at 12:17
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    I tossed a coin and it said it's a valid sentence not run on. This is just as valid as asking ChatGPT, but less likely to expose me to tracking cookies and malware.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 20, 2023 at 12:38
  • @EllieK I was misled by ChatGPT on run-on sentences. I didn't get the concept right at first. As all you said, the sentence is grammatically correct but "missing/ignoring commas". That was new to me. I thought "missing/ignoring commas" == grammatically incorrect.
    – Rick
    Apr 20, 2023 at 16:05

2 Answers 2

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It's not a run-on sentence since you may join as many sentences as you like with the word "and".

  • In the darkness he loosened his sheath knife

and

  • taking all the strain of the fish on his left shoulder he leaned back and cut the line against the wood of the gunwale.

The next question is: should there be a comma after the word 'shoulder'?

Probably yes. But it doesn't look like a serious problem.

"For participial phrases before the main clause, put a comma after the participial phrase." - prowritingaid.com

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I was misled by ChatGPT on run-on sentences. I didn't get the concept right at first. As all you said, the sentence is grammatically correct but "missing/ignoring commas". That was new to me. I thought "missing/ignoring commas" == grammatically incorrect. <-----Can someone tell me more on this?

From ChatGPT:

Me: I see there are lots of places in the book ignoring punctuations

ChatGPT:

It's important to note that writers, especially those with a distinct literary style, might deliberately choose to ignore or break certain punctuation rules in their works. Ernest Hemingway, the author of "The Old Man and the Sea," is known for his minimalist writing style. His prose is often characterized by short sentences, simple vocabulary, and sparse punctuation.

Hemingway's style is part of what makes his writing unique and memorable. He often prioritized the flow and rhythm of his sentences over strict adherence to punctuation conventions. As a result, you might notice that some punctuation marks, like commas, are not used as frequently in his writing as they might be in other works.

When analyzing a literary work, it's important to consider the author's style and intentions. In Hemingway's case, his deliberate choice to ignore certain punctuation rules is part of his artistic expression, and it contributes to the overall effect of his writing.

As a reader, it's essential to understand that different authors have different styles, and sometimes, unconventional punctuation usage is part of what sets a particular writer's work apart. Remember that in literature, rules can be bent or broken for the sake of artistic expression, and this can lead to unique and memorable writing.


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  • @Jeffrey Carney why removed the answer? It was helpful.
    – Rick
    Apr 21, 2023 at 4:36

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