Sharpen Up Your Writing: A Quick Guide to Sentence Types
  • 3-minute read
  • 10th December 2015

Sharpen Up Your Writing: A Quick Guide to Sentence Types

Writing in grammatical sentences helps you to express yourself clearly, but there’s more to sentence structure than syntactical construction alone. It’s also important to consider the type of sentences you use.

The four sentence types you need to know are simple, compound, complex and compound-complex sentences.

Simple Sentence Structure

At its most basic, a simple sentence combines a subject and a verb to express a complete thought:

“I run.”

In the above, the subject is “I” and the verb is “run.” This is all the sentence needs to express that the speaker is someone who runs. Of course, not all simple sentences are quite so basic:

“My fitness-obsessed brother and I run at least five miles every day.”

This example includes more detail, but remains a simple sentence because it expresses a complete thought in itself. Another term for a simple sentence is an “independent clause.”

Compound Sentences

A compound sentence is a sentence with two or more independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction (e.g., “and,” “but,” “or,” “so,” etc.):

“I love my brother, and my brother loves running.”

“I love my brother, but I hate running.”

In each of these cases, the statement on either side of the conjunction could work as a standalone sentence; however, by combining them in a compound sentence we clarify the relationship between the two thoughts expressed (e.g., that my hatred of running is why I don’t run).

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Complex Sentences

Unlike simple and compound sentences, complex sentences contain both an independent and a dependent clause. A dependent clause is one that contains a verb, but doesn’t express a complete thought and begins with a subordinating conjunction (e.g., “although,” “after,” “while”, “unless”, etc.):

“I like to watch TV, whereas my brother enjoys running.”

Here, “I like to live watch TV” is an independent clause (i.e., it would work as a simple sentence without modification). The dependent clause “whereas my brother enjoys running,” on the other hand, would not work as a sentence by itself since the subordinating conjunction “whereas” implies a comparison and expresses a particular relationship between the two parts of the sentence.

It’s worth noting here that subordinating conjunctions can also come at the start of a complex sentence (this is known as a periodic sentence):

“Whereas my brother enjoys running, I like to watch TV.”

Compound-Complex Sentences

A compound-complex sentence is one which contains three or more clauses (at least two independent and one dependent):

“While I enjoy watching TV, my brother loves running, and my sister is a body builder.”

In the above, we have one dependent clause beginning with a subordinating conjunction (“While I enjoy watching TV”). This is followed by two independent clauses (“my brother loves running” and “my sister is a body builder”) joined by a coordinating conjunction.

Now that you know how these different sentence types work, we hope you’ll use a variety of them in your writing!

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