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
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
play football every afternoon.
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
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 spells FANBOYS.) 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.
tried to speak Spanish, and my
tried to speak English.
played football, so
played football, for
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.
handed in his homework,
forgot to give the teacher the
B. The teacher
returned the homework
noticed the error.
C. The students
have a test tomorrow.
went to the movies.
E. Juan and
went to the movies
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.
COMPLEX SENTENCES / ADJECTIVE CLAUSES
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 called my mom
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
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
contains ten sentences.
sentences based on the short story, The Americanization of Shadrach Cohen,
by Bruno Lessing.
Quick Quiz: Shadrach
After each quiz, click GRADE QUIZ to see your score
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!