Simple Sentence | Compound
Sentence | Complex Sentence
Compound-Complex Sentences | Sentence Types in a Paragraph
Indentifying Independent and Dependent (Suboridinate) Clauses
Identifying Sentence Types
Identifying Compound-Complex Sentences and Complex Sentences
Indentifying Sentence Types II
The Simple Sentence
The most basic type of sentence is the simple sentence, which contains only one clause. As noted in the sections on phrases and clauses, simple sentences can be as short as one word but rarely are.
All of the following are simple sentences, because each contains only one clause. They are the first four sentences of A Christmas Carol and it is interesting that Dickens begins the story in this way.
- Marley was dead: to begin with.
- There is no doubt whatever about that.
- The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.
- Scrooge signed it.
As you can see, a simple sentence can be quite long -- it is a mistake to think that you can tell a simple sentence from a compound sentence or a complex sentence simply by its length.
- The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.
This is a simple sentence because, although it has a number of verbs, it has only one subject.
In writing, simple sentences can be very effective for grabbing a reader's attention or for summing up an argument, but too many simple sentences can make your writing seem immature.
The Compound Sentence
A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses (or simple sentences) joined by coordinating conjunctions like "and", "but", and "or."
- Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
- The wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile.
- My unhallowed hands shall not disturb it.
- The wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for.
- This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story.
- Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names.
A compound sentence is especially effective when use to create a sense of balance or contrast between two (or more) equally important pieces of information:
- He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas. (Note: a semi-colon takes the place of the conjunction and in this sentence.)
The Complex Sentence
A complex sentence contains one independent clause and at least one dependent (subordinate) clause.
- He couldn't replenish it.
- He couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room.
A complex sentence is very different from a simple sentence or a compound sentence because it makes clear which ideas are most important. When you write
- He lived in chambers. They had once belonged to his deceased partner.
- He lived in chambers, and they had once belonged to his deceased partner
The reader will have trouble knowing which piece of information is most important to you.
When you write:
- He lived in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased partner,
You make it clear that the fact that the chambers had once belonged to his deceased partner is not as important as the fact that he lived in the chambers.
The Compound-Complex Sentence
A coordinating conjunction sometimes links two complex sentences, or one simple sentence and one complex sentence. In this case, the sentence is called a compound-complex sentence.
Compound: The clerk promised, and Scrooge walked out with a growl.
Complex: The clerk promised that he would.
Compound-complex: The clerk promised that he would, and Scrooge walked out with a growl.
Compound: This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story.
Complex: Nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
Compound-complex: This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
In the above sentences the dependent clauses are in bold and the second independent clause is in italics.
Sentence types in a paragraph
Here is a paragraph from A Christmas Carol that demonstrates how Dickens will "build" sentences upon one another, often starting simply and ending with complexity.
It was his own room.
There was no doubt about that.
But it had undergone a surprising transformation.
The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green that it looked a perfect grove, from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened.
The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there.
Such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and many a winter season gone.
Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.
Introduction | Subjects | Verbs | Subject, Predicate | Objects | Phrases | Clauses
Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain 3/27/03