Sentence Constructions


Sentences can be constructed in a variety of ways. There are four main types of sentence constructions, and they are used for different purposes:

  1. Simple
  2. Compound
  3. Complex
  4. Compound-complex

To make your writing more effective, try to use a variety of sentence constructions. Sentences have to be combined to avoid the monotony that would surely result if all sentences were brief and of equal length. Part of the writer’s task is to employ whatever music is available to him or her in language, and part of language’s music lies within the rhythms of varied sentence length and structure.


Simple Sentences

Simple sentences contain only one independent clause. This means they express only one idea. For example:

  • Megan ate the sandwich for lunch.
  • The window cracked during the storm.


Compound Sentences

Compound sentences contain two independent clauses. That means that there are at least two units of thought within the sentence, either one of which can stand by itself as its own sentence. The clauses of a compound sentence are either separated by a semicolon (relatively rare) or connected by a coordinating conjunction (which is, more often than not, preceded by a comma). The two most common coordinating conjunctions are and and but. (The others are or, for, yet, and so.) Using and and but is the simplest technique we have for combining ideas. For example:

  • Megan ate the sandwich for lunch, and Jamal ate the soup.
  • The window cracked during the storm, but the roof remained intact.

You can also use a semicolon with a conjunctive adverb (however, nevertheless, otherwise, moreover, etc.), followed by a comma.

  • Marine mammals kept in captivity suffer from stress; moreover, they can cause injuries.

You can also use just a semicolon to create a compound sentence.

  • Megan ate the sandwich for lunch; Jamal ate the soup.

Click here to review the rules of comma usage when you combine two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction.


Complex Sentences

Complex sentences contain one dependent clause and one independent clause. A dependent clause cannot stand on its own, as it does not contain a complete thought. Subordinating conjunctions, such as if, when, although, and since work to subordinate one idea to another.

The act of coordinating clauses simply links ideas; subordinating one clause to another establishes a more complex relationship between ideas, showing that one idea depends on another in some way: a chronological development, a cause-and-effect relationship, a conditional relationship, etc.

  • While the television show was on, she did her homework.
  • If the client is happy, we are happy.

When we use subordination of clauses to combine ideas, the rules of punctuation are very important. It might be a good idea to review the definition of clauses at this point and the uses of the comma in setting off introductory and parenthetical elements.


Compound-Complex Sentences

These sentences combine a compound sentence with a complex sentence. This means that you are combining two independent clauses with at least one dependent clause. You must ensure that you punctuate your sentence properly to avoid confusion.

  • Even though the professor was exhausted, she continued to grade assignments, and she stayed awake until they were all done.