How to Structure Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentences?

Ever find yourself wondering what the difference is between simple, compound, and complex sentences? Not sure whether you’ve properly structured a sentence? Confused about how to distinguish a complex from a compound-complex sentence?

Well, wonder no more, because we’re here to provide you with a simple guide to complex, compound, complex-compound, and simple sentences together with some examples of each one.

Introduction to English Sentence Structures

Sentences, just like buildings, have structures. Simple sentences, complex sentences, and compound sentences are all different types of sentence structures.

The types of sentences differ because of the parts that make up each structure. In other words, the difference between simple sentences, compound sentences, and complex sentences in English is the way in which they are organized.

Sentences are built out of different parts called clauses. There are two types of clauses: dependent and independent.

Independent clauses can stand on their own. In other words, they can be a complete sentence; they convey the complete idea. Some examples of independent clauses include:

  • The cat is very fat.
  • I ate dinner.
  • Cordyceps is often called the zombie-ant fungus.
  • Tyler went home early today.

All of the examples above are complete sentences. They have a subject and a verb, and convey a complete thought.

Dependent clauses, in contrast, do not convey a complete idea. They cannot stand alone as complete sentences. They need an independent clause to become a complete sentence. Some examples of dependent clauses include:

  • Because she loves to eat.
  • When I came home.
  • While I was DJing at the party.
  • Which is why I won’t ever eat an ant.

Now that we know about the 2 types of clauses, let’s check out the structure of simple, compound, and complex sentences.

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Simple Sentences

A simple sentence comprises one independent clause. This means it has a subject and a verb. It can also have an object. There are four basic types of simple sentences. These are:

  1. One subject + one verb
    The cat ate the treat.
  2. One subject + compound (more than one) verbs
    The cat ate the treat and vomited.
  3. Compound (more than one) subjects + one verb
    The cat and the dog ate the treats.
  4. Compound subjects + compound verbs
    The cat and the dog ate the treats and napped.

Compound Sentences

A compound sentence has more than one independent clause. The clauses are connected by what is called a “coordinating conjunction.” Coordinating conjunctions are words like:

  • And
  • But
  • For
  • Nor
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

Let’s look at some examples of compound sentences. Remember, these are sentences with two or more independent clauses (IC) connected by the coordinating conjunctions (CC) mentioned above.

  • The cat ate the treat, and the dog napped.
    • IC: The cat ate the treat
    • IC: The dog napped
    • CC: And
  • I hate seafood, yet you keep buying me seafood.
    • IC: I hate seafood
    • IC: You keep buying me seafood
    • CC: Yet
  • Tyler went home early so he had enough time to get ready for his date.
    • IC: Tyler went home early
    • IC: He had enough time to get ready for his date
    • CC: So

Now, let’s see how compound and complex sentences differ from each other.

Complex Sentences

 As we saw above, compound sentences include two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction. In contrast, complex sentences contain an independent clause and a dependent clause (DC). These parts are linked together by a subordinating conjunction (SC). Subordinating conjunctions are words like:

  • When
  • If
  • After
  • Although
  • Before
  • While
  • How
  • Because

 Let’s look at some examples of complex sentences. Remember, unlike compound sentences, complex sentences have a dependent as well as an independent clause.

  • Although I hate seafood, you keep buying it.
    • IC: You keep buying it
    • DC: Although I hate seafood
    • SC: Although
  • The cat vomited because he ate the treat.
    • IC: The cat vomited
    • DC: Because he ate the treat
    • SC: Because
  • When my mother turned 75, she had a massive birthday party.
    • IC: She had a massive birthday party
    • DC: When my mother turned 75
    • SC: When

Remember, a dependent clause can’t be a sentence all on its own. Adding a subordinating conjunction to an independent clause makes it dependent.

So although “My mother turned 75” is a complete sentence and an independent clause, the presence of “when” in “When my mother turned 75” makes it a dependent clause, and therefore incomplete.

Compound-Complex Sentences

 There’s a fourth type of sentence structure that is commonly used in English, in addition to simple, compound, and complex sentences. It’s called the compound-complex sentence. So what is it? Let’s take a look.

A compound-complex sentence has at least one dependent clause and at least two independent clauses. Compound-complex sentences can often become confusing to the reader if they are not properly and carefully structured.

Don’t try to make your writing fancy by using this type of sentence structure if you aren’t already a somewhat advanced English writer. Let’s check out some compound-complex sentence examples.

  • The cat ate the treat too fast because he was excited, so he vomited all over the carpet.
    • IC 1: The cat ate the treat too fast
    • IC 2: He vomited all over the carpet
    • DC: Because he was excited
    • CC: So
  • Because there was a blizzard outside, Tyler went home early so he had enough time to get ready for his date.
    • IC 1: Tyler went home early
    • IC 2: He had enough time to get ready for his date
    • DC: Because there was a blizzard outside
    • CC: So
  • While texting and driving, Amara failed to see the red light and she crashed her car.
    • IC 1: Amara failed to see the red light
    • IC 2: She crashed the car
    • DC: While texting and driving
    • CC: And

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While the examples above have two independent clauses and one dependent clause, compound-complex sentences can have varied formats. For this simple guide, we’re sticking to the basics.

Alright, now that you’ve learned all about the differences in English sentence structures, are you ready for a quiz? I thought so! Can you correctly identify each type of sentence below?

  1. Harry was excited to learn a new spell. (simple)
  2. Because she didn’t get my note, she never knew I was in love with her. (complex)
  3. After Jimmy was dropped home by his friends, he drank lots of coffee so he could stay awake for his thesis defense. (complex compound)
  4. Justin worked hard every day, yet he could not save any money. (compound)
  5. Mosquitos can drink up to .01 ml of blood per day. (simple)
  6. She was fired because she leaked a lot of sensitive data. (complex)

How did you do? Did you get the right answers? Well done! For more tips and tricks on English writing and grammar, check out our other blog posts.

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