One wrong with simple sentences. But to

One element of strong writing is varied sentence structure. There are four basic sentence structures: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. In this lesson, you will learn about complex sentences and how to write them.

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Maybe you write for work.

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Maybe you write for school. Or maybe, like so many others, you write a blog to share your experiences with others. But what makes a blog stand out? Priscila wants to write a blog about her vacation, and she was told that one ingredient of exceptional writing is the complex sentence. Before we explore the complex sentence with Priscila, we need to review some background.

Background Information

A clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. The subject tells whom or what the sentence is about. The verb tells the action or state of being of the subject. Look at these clauses:

  • before the alarm rang (subject: alarm, verb: rang)
  • Jamie woke suddenly (subject: Jamie, verb: woke)

An independent clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb that expresses a complete thought. An example is:

  • Jamie woke suddenly.

A dependent clause, also called a subordinate clause, is a group of words with a subject and a verb but does not express a complete thought.

It does not make sense standing alone. An example is:

  • Before the alarm rang.

A subordinate clause usually begins with a subordinating conjunction – a word that begins a subordinate clause and connects it to the independent clause. Some examples of subordinating conjunctions are: since, although, until, because, before, if, as, while, when, and unless. There are many others as well.

A sentence consists of at least one independent clause but can have subordinate clauses as well.

Priscila’s Blog: Examining Sentences

Let’s take a peek at Priscila’s first blog entry:

First Blog Entry
Priscilas Blog


Each of the sentences in Priscila’s blog entry is grammatically correct in that each one is a complete sentence with a subject, verb, and complete thought. Notice that they all sound very similar. Each sentence is one independent clause with exactly one subject and one verb.

This type of sentence is known as a simple sentence. Now, there’s nothing wrong with simple sentences. But to write a really stand-out blog, Priscila is going to need to add some other sentences. What she needs are some complex sentences.

Adding Complex Sentences

A complex sentence consists of one independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses.

Blog Entry Revised
Priscilas Blog Revised


In the new entry, there are now five complex sentences. They are complex because they have an independent clause and a subordinate clause. In the entry, the subordinate clauses are underlined in green and the independent clauses are underlined in purple. Notice we left two simple sentences for variety.

Variety in writing is good – while we like complex sentences, too many of them in a row can be tiresome!Look at the sentence labeled number 1. The original blog entry said:

  • We arrived in Portland, Maine. The grey sky was filled with clouds.

In the new entry, we make the first sentence into a subordinate clause by adding the word ”when” and then combine the two sentences. The new sentence is:

  • When we arrived in Portland, Maine, the grey sky was filled with clouds.

Look at the sentence labeled number 2. The original blog entry said:

  • We only had one day in Portland.

    We decided to follow our original schedule.

In the new entry, we decided to make the first sentence into a subordinate clause, but we reversed the order of the clauses in the new sentence. It is important to note that in a complex sentence, the subordinate clause can come before or after the independent clause.

See the new sentence.

  • We decided to follow our original schedule since we only had one day in Portland.

We can probably agree that Priscila’s second blog entry, with complex sentences added, is much more readable and enjoyable than her first. This illustrates the value of using complex sentences in writing.

Lesson Summary

A complex sentence consists of one independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses. You can combine two simple sentences to create a complex sentence by making one simple sentence into a subordinate clause. However, don’t eliminate all simple sentences because having a variety of sentence structures is essential to good writing.

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