Do You Know Your Sentence Structures?

There’s more to a sentence than a string of words.

Do you think about sentence structure when constructing that email to your boss? How about spelling? If not, don’t worry! This article is all about you.

Sentence Structure

Most people know there are different types of sentences. However, most also have no idea what the names of those structures are or what it actually takes to form them. There are, in reality, FOUR different kinds of sentence structures:

1) Simple

2) Compound

3) Complex

4) Compound-Complex


Simple Sentences

Simple sentences only contain one independent clause. This means it holds one subject and one verb. Either subject or verb can be compound (meaning two or more), but the key is there always remains only ONE independent clause.

Example one: Blue is Angela’s favorite color.

Example two: Blue and red are Trevor’s favorite colors.

Example three: Samantha loves and hates pink.

The examples above are all simple sentences, though some contain compound elements. Example one has a simple subject (Blue) and a simple verb (is). Example two has a compound subject (Blue and red) and a simple verb (are). Example three has a simple subject (Samantha) and a compound verb (loves and hates). However, they are all still considered simple sentences because there is no secondary clause that can stand alone.


Compound Sentences

Compound sentences can have two or more independent clauses. These are often separated either by a comma and coordinating conjunction or a semi-colon.

Example one: Sarah enjoys reading; John prefers sports.

Example two: Brittany and Joyce arrived at the party early, but Shane got there late.

Example three: Cheryll is a doctor, and Ian is a professor.

The first example shows how a semi-colon can act as the divider punctuation between two separate, independent clauses (meaning two different sentences that can stand on their own). The two other examples show two independent clauses separated by a comma and conjunction.

*Here is a list of coordinating conjunctions for future compound sentences you will write: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. An easy way to remember these is the acronym FANBOYS.

*Many writers leave out the comma when writing SHORT compound sentences. This is purely subjective. Grammar rules state you should technically accompany a coordinating conjunction with a comma to illustrate where the division between the two clauses occurs.


Complex Sentences

Complex sentences are easier than they sound. It’s simply joining together one independent clause with one or more subordinate clauses. A subordinate clause contains a subject and verb separate from the independent clause, but it cannot stand alone. Subordinate clauses usually describe or explain what happened in the independent clause.

Example one: Tom didn’t get the job because he showed up late to the interview.

Example two: She almost fell over when the cat darted between her feet.

Example three: I’ll do the dishes if you cook supper.

Complex sentences can often be confused with compound sentences. There are MANY subordinating conjunctions, so the easy way to differentiate a complex sentence from a compound one is to memorize the coordinating conjunctions given above. If the conjunction is one represented in that list, it is NOT a complex sentence.


Compound-Complex Sentence

Ok, looking back at all we’ve gone over so far, can you guess what builds this type of sentence? Compound-complex sentences have two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. This is tricky, because the dependent clause can move around anywhere in the sentence.

Example one: When you forget to water plants, they wither and shrivel, but a good gardener has a set schedule for each flower and shrub.

Example two: I bought a new dress for the party, and everyone thought it was lovely until someone spilled red wine down the front.

Both of these are considered compound-complex sentences. In Ex. 1, the dependent clause comes at the beginning of the sentence, attributing to the first independent clause “they wither and shrivel”. In Ex. 2, the dependent clause is at the end, attributing to the second independent clause.


Test Yourself!

Can you tell the difference now? Test yourself on the following examples. Feel free to leave a comment telling me how you did or asking for clarification on any other sentence stumper!

1) If the sun is shining, Sonya’s toddlers like to go to the pool, and her teens enjoy heading to the skatepark.

2) Dogs and cats have a notorious history of rivalry.

3) The Pied Piper played his pipe, and all the rats followed him out of the town.

4) The rats followed the Piper because his pipe was magical.

5) It is rumored a rainbow leads to a pot of gold, but science begs to differ.

6) Don’t poke a sleeping bear when you run into one in the woods.

7) The bear won’t appreciate you interrupting its nap.


*edited version of pre-existing article

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