The Difference Between Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentences

The first step to becoming a good writer involves improving your vocabulary. A diverse array of words added to your writing will help give it a unique flavor. This can help you be as concise or as verbose as you desire.

That said, sentence structure matters too. You need to be able to differentiate between simple, compound, and complex sentences. If you are unaware of what these terms refer to we have a few examples that you should take note of.

Here is an example of a simple sentence:

I like to cook.

Here is an example of a compound sentence:

I like to cook, but only in my kitchen.

Here is an example of a complex sentence:

When I cook I like to use my own kitchen, but I can work with whatever you have.

These examples can give you a decent idea of what you should expect from these sentence structure types. But we will be diving deeper in as well to give you a fuller understanding of how to compose sentences like these on your own. We will start off by breaking a sentence down into its component parts.

What Makes a Sentence?

Some people might define a sentence as a series of words but in truth, these words get grouped into clauses.

A sentence often has lots of clauses within it. Although in some cases a single clause can comprise the entirety of a sentence as well. Sentence structure depends on how many clauses it contains and how these clauses relate to one another.

What Are Simple Sentences, Compound Sentences, and Complex Sentences?

Generally speaking, a simple sentence contains one clause. However, it is important to note that not all clauses are created equal. Some clauses are independent whereas others might be dependent. The single clause that comprises a single sentence will always be an independent one.

There are single clause sentences that use a dependent clause. But such sentences are referred to as sentence fragments rather than simple sentences. They are more commonplace in spoken language as opposed to written content.

A compound sentence, though, consists of two or more independent clauses. Dependent clauses are usually not a part of these types of sentences.

Hence, a complex sentence consists of two simple sentences joined together. There is a variety of ways in which you can connect these independent clauses. The most popular is either conjunction such as “and”, “but”, “for”, and “yet”. Semicolons are sometimes used in certain cases as well.

There is a fair bit of flexibility when it comes to compound sentences, with colons often used to conjoin them as well. There is a mistake that is frequently made in this regard which you should seek to avoid.

Attempting to connect two or more independent clauses with a comma will be erroneous. It might seem to work due to its mimicry of natural speech patterns, but this often doesn’t hold up in writing.

The use of a comma in this manner is called a comma splice, and it is a very common mistake for new writers to make. Replace the comma with conjunction and you will realize that the sentence starts to flow a bit more easily.

Complex sentences are a bit more complicated, obviously. This is where dependent clauses come in. If your sentence has any dependent clauses in it, chances are that it’s a complex sentence.

You would usually connect the dependent clause to an independent one through coordinating conjunction. A semicolon would normally not work as well in this regard.

The dependent clause can be added at the start of the sentence, in between the independent clauses, or even at the very end. All of these methods will work well enough based on your intentions. But the important thing is to avoid the aforementioned comma splice at all costs.

Dependent clauses can serve a variety of functions in complex sentences. They can be adverbial, providing spatial or temporal information about an entity in one of the independent clauses.

They can also work as an adjective. Sometimes a complex sentence can be comprised of two noun clauses that are not separated by conjunction at all. These sentences are often referred to as complex-compound sentences.

Most of the time, you wouldn’t really have to worry about intentionally creating complex, compound, or simple sentences.

Instead, you should work towards internalizing correct syntax and sentence structure. You can make use of a wide range of online tools if you ever get confused. The preceding sentence was a complex one, by the way!

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