There are several different types of sentences used in English. This is a lesson about two types, the compound sentence and the complex sentence. You will learn how to identify compound and complex sentences and you will learn about the parts of these sentences.
Varying Sentence Structure
Have you ever read a story that had too many short, choppy sentences? Or a story with so many long, twisted sentences that you couldn’t understand what was happening? Both of these problems can be fixed if the writer uses more than one type of sentence. Beginning writing often consists mainly of simple sentences. However, you can improve your writing by expanding simple sentences into compound sentences and complex sentences.
Two Types of Clauses
Before we can learn about compound and complex sentences, we need to review clauses. A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb. Remember, the verb is the action, and the subject is who or what performs that action.
- Clause: The bird chirped. (subject: bird, verb: chirped)
- Clause: When the dog barked. (subject: dog, verb: barked)
- Not a clause: My angry, furry dog. (subject: dog, verb: none)
- Not a clause: Ate a baloney sandwich.
(subject: none, verb: ate)
There are two types of clauses: independent and subordinate.
An independent clause contains a subject and a verb and stands alone as a complete thought. An independent clause has only one subject/verb pairing, and may contain any number of describing words (also called modifiers). Here are some examples.
- Ella ran.
The subject is Ella and the verb is ran. This is a complete thought.
- My angry, furry dog barked loudly.
The subject is dog and the verb is barked. The other words are modifiers – they describe other words in the sentence.
There is only one subject/verb pairing, and the thought is complete.
A dependent clause is also called a subordinate clause. It contains a subject and a verb, and it may contain modifiers, but it is not a complete thought. It cannot stand alone.
Here are some examples.
- Since Franklin likes potatoes.
The subject is Franklin and the verb is likes, but this is not a complete thought – it does not make sense alone.
- When Pete comes home.
The subject is Pete and the verb is comes. This is not a complete thought.Now that we have reviewed clauses, we can learn about compound and complex sentences.
A compound sentence contains two or more independent clauses. Both clauses could stand alone, but they are linked by a comma and a connecting word such as for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so, easily remembered by thinking ‘fan boys.’ These seven connecting words are called coordinating conjunctions.
- In this example, two independent clauses are underlined in red: Claire set the table. Martin made the salad.
- The subjects are in blue: ”Claire” and ”Martin.”
- The verbs are in orange: ”set” and ”made.”
- The two independent clauses are connected by a comma and the coordinating conjunction”and.”
Here are a few more compound sentences.
- Tim cooked soup, but he didn’t eat any.
- Franklin wanted potatoes, so he peeled five pounds.
A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.
The two clauses are not equal. The dependent clause needs to be attached to the independent clause in order to make a complete thought.
- In this example, the independent clause is underlined in red: The friends played a game.
- The dependent clause is underlined in purple: After they ate dinner.
- The subjects are in blue: ”friends” and ”they.”
- The verbs are in orange: ”played” and ”ate.”
- In this example, the independent clause is underlined in red: Tim washed the dishes
- The dependent clause is underlined in purple: while Franklin dried them. Notice that in a complex sentence, the dependent clause can come before or after the independent clause.
- The subjects are in blue: ”Tim” and ”Franklin.”
- The verbs are in orange: ”washed” and ”dried.
Here are a few more complex sentences:
- While Martin and Claire were driving home, they saw a deer.
- When Pete came home, he watched a movie.
A clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. A compound sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction, or connecting word. A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. Both of these types of sentences can be used to improve your writing.