2017/06/09

What You Need to Know About Simple, Compound and Complex Sentences


Writing a complicated sentence can be difficult to some writers, and being able to write rich and varied sentences is a skill in its self.  Being aware of simple, compound and complex sentences can help you vary the sentences in your own writing.

Simple Sentences

Simple sentences contain the most basic elements that make up a sentence: subject, verb and a completed thought.

1. Sam waited for the train
"Sam"= subject, "waited"= verb

2. The car was late
"The car"= subject, "was"= verb

3. Kathryn and Helen took the bus.
"Kathryn and Helen"= compound subject, "took"= verb

Using compound subjects such as compound verbs, prepositional phrases (such as "at the bust station"), and many other elements help lengthen simple sentences, but simple sentences can be very short some times.  Writing with too many simple sentences can make your writing seem "choppy" and prevent you writing smoothly.

Compound Sentences

Compound sentences are made up pf two independent clauses (complete sentences) which are connected to one another with a coordinating conjunction.  Coordinating conjunctions are easily remembered if you remember words such as "FAN BOYS".
  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So
Here are some examples of compound sentences:

  • Kevin waited for the train, but the train was late.
  • I looked for Helen and Kathryn at the train station, but they arrived at the station before noon and left on the train before I arrived.
  • Kathryn and Helen left on the train before I arrived, so I did not see them at the train station.

Sometimes compound sentences can be overused, while coordinating conjunctions are really useful for connecting sentences together.  Coordinating conjunctions may indicate some type of relationship between two independent clauses in a sentence, they sometimes do not indicate much of a relationship.  Using the word "and" only adds one independent clause to another, but does not indicate how two parts of a sentence is logically related.  Using too many compound sentences with "and" can weaken a sentence and your writing.

Using complex sentences you can be more clear and specific about established relationships.

Complex Sentences

Complex sentences are made up of one or more dependent clauses and an independent clause.  Dependent clause is similar to an independent clause, or a complete sentence, but lacks one of the elements that would make it a complete sentence.

Examples of dependent clauses:

  • because Helen and Kathryn arrived at the train station before noon
  • while he waited at the train station
  • after they left on the train

The above dependent clauses cannot stand alone as a sentence, but can be added to an independent clause forming a complex sentence.

A dependent clause begins with subordinating conjunctions.  See some of the most common subordinating conjunctions:
  • while
  • wherever
  • whereas
  • whenever
  • when
  • until
  • unless
  • though
  • since
  • if
  • even though
  • before
  • because
  • as
  • although
  • after
Complex sentences join independent clauses with one or more dependent clauses.

Dependent clauses can go first in a sentence, followed by an independent clause, like the following:
  1. Because Helen and Kathryn arrived at the train station before noon, I did not see them at the station.
  2. While we waited at the bus station, Sam realised that the bus was late.
  3. After they left on the train , Helen and Kathryn realised that Sam was waiting at the train station.

Equally the independent clauses can go first in the sentence, followed by the dependent clause, like the following:
  1. I did not see them at the station because Helen and Kathryn arrived at the train station before noon.
  2. Sam realised that the bus was late while he waited at the train station.
  3. Helen and Kathryn realised Sam was waiting at the bus station after they left on the train.
Sentences that are complex are often more effective because they indicate clearer and more specific relationships between the main parts of the sentence.  For instance the word "before" tells the reader that one thing develops before another.  Words such as "although" sends a more complex relationship than a word such as "and" conveys.

Simple tips to remember

❃ Avoid beginning a sentence with "and" or "but" or other coordinating conjunctions.  These words normally join parts of a sentence together, not begin a new sentence.

❃ It is acceptable to start a sentence with "because" as long as the sentence is complete (such as "Because Helen and Kathryn arrived at the train station before noon, I did not see them at the station").

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