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Monday, August 23, 2010



Experienced writers use a variety of sentences to make their writing interesting and lively. Too many simple sentences, for example, will sound choppy and immature while too many long sentences will be difficult to read and hard to understand.

This page contains definitions of simple, compound, and complex sentences with many simple examples. The purpose of these examples is to help the ESL/EFL learner to identify sentence basics including identification of sentences in the short quizzes that follow. After that, it will be possible to analyze more complex sentences varieties.


A simple sentence, also called an independent clause, contains a subject and a verb, and it expresses a complete thought. In the following simple sentences, subjects are in yellow, and verbs are in green.

A. Some students like to study in the mornings.
B. Juan and Arturo play football every afternoon.
C. Alicia goes to the library and studies every day.

The three examples above are all simple sentences. Note that sentence B contains a compound subject, and sentence C contains a compound verb. Simple sentences, therefore, contain a subject and verb and express a complete thought, but they can also contain a compound subjects or verbs.


A compound sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinator. The coordinators are as follows: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. (Helpful hint: The first letter of each of the coordinators spellsFANBOYS.) Except for very short sentences, coordinators are always preceded by a comma. In the following compound sentences, subjects are in yellow, verbs are in green, and the coordinators and the commas that precede them are in red.

A. I tried to speak Spanish, and my friend tried to speak English.
B. Alejandro played football, so Maria went shopping.
C. Alejandro played football, for Maria went shopping.

The above three sentences are compound sentences. Each sentence contains two independent clauses, and they are joined by a coordinator with a comma preceding it. Note how the conscious use of coordinators can change the relationship between the clauses. Sentences B and C, for example, are identical except for the coordinators. In sentence B, which action occurred first? Obviously, "Alejandro played football" first, and as a consequence, "Maria went shopping. In sentence C, "Maria went shopping" first. In sentence C, "Alejandro played football" because, possibly, he didn't have anything else to do, for or because "Maria went shopping." How can the use of other coordinators change the relationship between the two clauses? What implications would the use of "yet" or "but" have on the meaning of the sentence?


A complex sentence has an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A complex sentence always has a subordinator such as because, since, after, although, or when or a relative pronoun such as that, who, or which. In the following complex sentences, subjects are in yellow, verbs are in green, and the subordinators and their commas (when required) are in red.

A. When he handed in his homework, he forgot to give the teacher the last page.
B. The teacher returned the homework after she noticed the error.
C. The students are studying because they have a test tomorrow.
D. After they finished studying, Juan and Maria went to the movies.
E. Juan and Maria went to the movies after they finished studying.

When a complex sentence begins with a subordinator such as sentences A and D, a comma is required at the end of the dependent clause. When the independent clause begins the sentence with subordinators in the middle as in sentences B, C, and E, no comma is required. If a comma is placed before the subordinators in sentences B, C, and E, it is wrong.

Note that sentences D and E are the same except sentence D begins with the dependent clause which is followed by a comma, and sentence E begins with the independent clause which contains no comma. The comma after the dependent clause in sentence D is required, and experienced listeners of English will often hear a slight pause there. In sentence E, however, there will be no pause when the independent clause begins the sentence.


Finally, sentences containing adjective clauses (or dependent clauses) are also complex because they contain an independent clause and a dependent clause. The subjects, verbs, and subordinators are marked the same as in the previous sentences, and in these sentences, the independent clauses are also underlined.

A. The woman who(m) my mom talked to sells cosmetics.
B. The book that Jonathan read is on the shelf.
C. The house which AbrahAM Lincoln was born in is still standing.
D. The town where I grew up is in the United States.

Adjective Clauses are studied in this site separately, but for now it is important to know that sentences containing adjective clauses are complex.


Are sure you now know the differences between simple, compound, and complex sentences? Click QUICK QUIZ to find out. This quiz is just six sentences. The key is to look for the subjects and verbs first.

Another quiz, this one about Helen Keller contains ten sentences.

These quiz sentences based on the short story, The Americanization of Shadrach Cohen, by Bruno Lessing.
Quick Quiz:

After each quiz, click GRADE QUIZ to see your score immediately.

Remember that with the skill to write good simple, compound, and complex sentences, you will have the flexibility to (1) convey your ideas precisely and (2) entertain with sentence variety at the same time! Good luck with these exercises!

Sentence Types

Summary: This resource presents methods for adding sentence variety and complexity to writing that may sound repetitive or boring. Sections are divided into general tips for varying structure, a discussion of sentence types, and specific parts of speech which can aid in sentence variety.

Contributors:Ryan Weber, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2010-01-23 11:08:52

Structurally, English sentences can be classified four different ways, though there are endless constructions of each. The classifications are based on the number of independent and dependent clauses a sentence contains. An independent clause forms a complete sentence on its own, while a dependent clause needs another clause to make a complete sentence. By learning these types, writers can add complexity and variation to their sentences.

Simple sentence: A sentence with one independent clause and no dependent clauses.

  • My aunt enjoyed taking the hayride with you.
  • China's Han Dynasty marked an official recognition of Confucianism.

Compound Sentence: A sentence with multiple independent clauses but no dependent clauses.

  • The clown frightened the little girl, and she ran off screaming.
  • The Freedom Riders departed on May 4, 1961, and they were determined to travel through many southern states.

Complex Sentence: A sentence with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

  • After Mary added up all the sales, she discovered that the lemonade stand was 32 cents short
  • While all of his paintings are fascinating, Hieronymus Bosch's triptychs, full of mayhem and madness, are the real highlight of his art.

Complex-Compound Sentence: A sentence with multiple independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.

  • Catch-22 is widely regarded as Joseph Heller's best novel, and because Heller served in World War II, which the novel satirizes, the zany but savage wit of the novel packs an extra punch.

Sentence Types

In English we have four types of sentences:

  1. Simple
  2. Compound
  3. Complex
  4. Compound – Complex.

This has nothing to do with sentence length; rather these sentence types are created by the use of transition words (or the lack of transition words).

  1. Simple Sentence
    1. Bob went to the store.
    2. Bob and Sue went to the store.
    3. Bob and Sue went to the store on the corner near the center of town to buy groceries and to get some drinks for the party.
    4. Bob went to the store and went to the postoffice.
      1. These sentences can be long, but when they are very long they tend to be difficult to read.
  2. Compound sentences (two complete sentences joined with a conjunction “and,” “but,” “or,” “so,” “yet,” and “for.” See Comma Rules.

Bob went to the store, and Sue went to the office.


The negotiations were successful, so the diplomats returned to their homes.


We can go to party, or we can go to the dance.


  1. Note: Words using conjuncts – see Transition words – bottom of the page are a kind of compound sentence.

The negotiations ended successfully; therefore, the fighting stopped.


  1. Complex sentences. These sentences use subordinators (see the list of words at the top of the transition word page)

Because the problem proved difficult, they decided to from a committee.

Subordinator sentence sentence

The proposal [ that ] we wrote was accepted.


The issue, which we thought we had solved, came back to haunt us.


  1. Compound –Complex Sentences. These sentences use a conjunction and a subordinator.

The proposal that we wrote was accepted, and we started the project.

Subordinator Conjunction


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