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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A brief introduction to compound and complex sentence construction in English

You can dramatically improve your English writing skills by revising paragraphs written in short, simple sentences so that they reflect a deeper understanding of your subject. You can do this by combining and connecting previously written simple sentences into longer complex sentences which communicate more information and display a firm grasp on written English. A few compound and complex sentences express a more nuanced thought than a whole paragraph of shorter sentences with limited meaning. I’ll give brief examples of how you can incorporate compound and complex sentences into your everyday writing.

Compound sentences

The easier of these two structural styles to grasp is the compound sentence. Compound sentences essentially link together two independent simple sentences, often by adding a coordinating conjunction such as “but,” “and,” “so,” “yet,” or “for”. Though grammatically correct, it looks strange when two short sentences that address the same idea follow each other in a paragraph. Compound sentences work to unite short sentences into a coherent long thought that addresses several aspects of the same main idea. Below are a few examples of simple sentences transformed into compound sentences. I’ve underlined the coordinating conjunction in each compound sentence.

Simple sentence: I won tickets by calling the radio station. The DJ told me to invite along all my friends to the show!

Compound sentence: I won tickets by calling the radio station, and the DJ told me to invite along all my friends to the show!

Simple sentence: Mary said she could come to the show. She got sick the day before.

Compound sentence: Mary said she could come to the show, but she got sick the day before.

Complex Sentences

Complex sentences link together an independent clause with one or more dependent clauses and contain multiple verbs, thus explaining much more information in one sentence than a string of related simple sentences. The independent clause and dependent clause are typically linked by a relative pronoun (that, which, who, whose, etc.) or a subordinate conjunction (when, because, since, although, so, etc.).

The best way to think about the difference between independent and dependent clauses is that independent clauses make grammatical sense on their own, independent of anything else in the sentence. Dependent clauses, on the other hand, depend on the independent clause to make grammatical sense -they can’t stand by themselves. The following are examples of complex sentences with the conjunction underlined and the dependent clause in bold.

Complex sentence: We sold our quota faster than the team that walked because we biked.

Complex sentence: I ate the cookies that you left out.

Complex sentence: Jeff said he thought he compiled more data than I did.

Complex-Compound Sentence

A little more difficult than the previous two sentence types, the complex-compound sentence contains two or more independent clauses, usually linked by a dependent clause. These sentences can communicate several big ideas about the same subject without breaking the thought for a new sentence. Below are a few examples of complex-compound sentences with the linking dependent clause underlined.

Complex-Compound sentence: Although Frank enjoyed cooking, he always forgot to buy groceries ahead of time, so he usually went out to eat for dinner.

Complex-Compound sentence: I started eating an apple every day at lunch, but George, who loves his junk food, continues to eat chips.

Complex-Compound sentence: Jessie didn’t care about the weather before, but since the storm, he’s made a point to bring his umbrella everywhere.

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for She welcomes your comments at her email Id: blauren99

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