Sentence Types (Simple, Complex and Compound)
  • 3-minute read
  • 9th September 2016

Sentence Types (Simple, Complex and Compound)

Today we’re looking at how to construct different sentence types! Wait! Where are you going? Come back! Just give us a moment to explain.

We know that sentence construction doesn’t sound exciting, but varying the length and type of sentences in your written work can boost its readability.

To do that, however, you’ll need to understand the three main sentence types: simple, compound and complex sentences. We might even take a cheeky look at compound-complex sentences, if you’re lucky.

Simple Sentences

All sentences should express a complete thought. The simplest sentences do this with just a subject (i.e. the active thing or person in a sentence) and a verb (i.e. an action). For instance, we could say:

Subject

Verb

She…

…jumped.

 
In the above, the subject is ‘she’ and the verb is ‘jumped’, so the sentence expresses the idea of a person having jumped. Many sentences also have an object, which is the thing acted upon:

Subject

Verb

Object

She…

…jumped…

…the hurdle.

 
Not all simple sentences are so basic, since we can add detail without changing the overall structure:

She and I jumped up and over the hurdle at the same time.

Here, we’ve used a compound subject, a verb phrase, and a bonus adverbial phrase! But the basic sentence type remains the same. This is known as an independent clause due to being a meaningful sentence on its own.

Compound Sentences

Compound sentences combine two or more independent clauses, typically using a coordinating conjunction (e.g. ‘but’ or ‘and’):

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Clause 1

Coordinating Conjunction

Clause 2

She jumped,…

…and…

…he ducked.

 
The crucial thing is that the clause on either side of the conjunction could work as a standalone sentence by itself (i.e. ‘She jumped’ and ‘And he ducked’ could both work as standalone sentences).

Complex Sentences

Complex sentences combine an independent clause with a dependent clause (i.e. a clause that contains a verb but doesn’t express a complete thought). Dependent clauses begin with a subordinating conjunction, like ‘although’ or ‘whereas’. For instance, we could say:

She loves jumping, whereas he loves ducking.

Or they begin with a relative pronoun, like ‘which’ or ‘whose’:

She’s always jumping, which is good exercise!

In either case, the dependent clause wouldn’t work as a sentence by itself.

Compound-Complex Sentences

A compound-complex sentence is one that contains at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause, such as:

While I have no preference, she loves jumping, and he loves ducking.

Here, ‘While I have no preference’ is a dependent clause (i.e. ‘while’ implies a comparison, so the clause is not a complete sentence by itself). But ‘she loves jumping’ and ‘he loves ducking’ are independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction, and both could word as standalone sentences.

Using Different Sentence Types Effectively

Understanding grammar can help you use to vary sentence type and length effectively. If you find yourself using a lot of short, simple sentences in your work, for instance, try using conjunctions to create compound sentences or adding detail to make some into complex sentences.

Alternatively, if you mostly use long compound and complex sentences, it might be worth breaking a few of them down into shorter simple sentences.

If you do this, you should find your writing flows more smoothly. But if you’d like to be extra sure your writings reads well, we have proofreaders ready to help. Upload a 500-word trial document for free to find out more.

Comments (4)
Sophia
28th August 2020 at 05:37
"In either case, the dependent clause wouldn’t work as a sentence by itself." "He loves ducking" ? Isn't it a sentence making sense on its own???
    Proofed
    28th August 2020 at 09:59
    Hi, Sophia. The clause is 'whereas he loves ducking'. It's the presence of the subordinate conjunction that means it won't word as a standalone sentence, whereas you can start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.
raygen
25th February 2022 at 19:03
what kind of sentence is this? The balmy summer air, the restful quiet, the odor of the flowers, and the drowsing murmur of the bees had had their effect, and she was nodding over her knitting-for she had no company but the cat, and it was asleep on her lap.
    Proofed
    28th February 2022 at 09:37
    Hi, Raygen. What you have there is a compound sentence made up of four independent clauses: 1) 'The balmy summer air, the restful quiet, the odor of the flowers, and the drowsing murmur of the bees had had their effect'; 2) 'and she was nodding over her knitting'; 3) 'for she had no company but the cat'; 4) 'and it was asleep on her lap'.

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