Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures: Part Three



Sentence structures are the beams of the building of composition. The stronger and better formed they are, the firmer our communication foundation will be.

Part One of our discussion introduced us to simple and compound sentences. In Part Two, we explored complex and compound-complex sentences. Let’s take a brief look at all four as a recap.

Simple Sentence Compound Sentence
  • one subject, one verb
  • at least two main (independent) clauses
  • no dependent (subordinate) clause
  • joined by a conjunction and a comma or by a semicolon
  • may include other parts of speech (e.g., adjectives, adverbs, objects)

Examples: Simple Sentence
Cats (subject) meow (verb).
The shepherd’s sheep (subject) have wandered (verb) away (adverb).
His fastball (subject) reaches (verb) ninety-nine miles per hour (direct object).

Examples: Compound Sentence
Cats meow (main clause), and dogs bark (main clause).
The shepherd’s sheep have wandered away (main clause), but they will not go far (main clause).
His fastball reaches ninety-nine miles per hour (main clause); his slider hits eighty-eight (main clause).

Complex Sentence Compound-Complex Sentence
  • one main clause, at least one dependent clause (often starting with a word showing reliance, such as when, because, so, and that
  • at least two main clauses, at least one dependent clause

Examples: Complex Sentence
When I grow up (dependent clause), I want to be an astronaut (main clause).
The roads are closed today (main clause) because it’s snowing so much (dependent clause).
I have given you all of my money (main clause), so you will have to wait until tomorrow for the rest (dependent clause).

Examples: Compound-Complex Sentence
When I grow up (dependent clause), I want to be an astronaut (main clause); my sister wants to be a physician (main clause).
The roads are closed today (main clause) because it’s snowing so much (dependent clause), but they might reopen if it stops (main clause).
I have given you all the money (main clause) that I have (dependent clause), so you will have to wait until tomorrow for the rest (dependent clause), and then I will owe no more (main clause).

To complete our review of sentence structures, we’ll next want to consider how to use them together to achieve greater style in our writing.

Applying the Four Types

Good prose skillfully mixes the four sentence types. It also varies their lengths.

Consider the following text using all simple sentences:

Bernice loves the rodeo. Her father was a rancher. Their family had many animals. She grew up around horses. Her father often let her ride them. She became very comfortable with them. In time she could even stay on the broncos. She also learned to rope calves.

This format is forthright, but an overuse of or overreliance on one sentence type can make writing choppy and droning. Let’s see how compound structures can help break the monotony.

Bernice loves the rodeo [simple]. Her father was a rancher, and their family had many animals [compound with conjunction]. She grew up around horses; her father often let her ride them [compound with semicolon]. She became very comfortable with them, and in time she could even stay on the broncos [compound with conjunction]. She also learned to rope calves [simple].

A little bit better. Now let’s look at adding a complex sentence for enhancing effect.

Bernice loves the rodeo [simple]. Because her father was a rancher, their family had many animals [complex]. She grew up around horses; her father often let her ride them [compound]. She became very comfortable with them, and in time she could even stay on the broncos [compound]. She also learned to rope calves [simple].

Now let’s insert a compound-complex structure to complete our transformation from a mechanical, repetitive paragraph to a more stylized one with all four sentence types.

Bernice loves the rodeo [simple]. Because her father was a rancher, their family had many animals [complex]. She grew up around horses, and her father often let her ride them, which made her very comfortable with them [compound-complex]. In time she could even stay on the broncos; she also learned to rope calves [compound].

Crisp composition can take many forms. You might have a short paragraph of all simple sentences followed by one with a few complex sentences. You can start content with two compound sentences and finish it with a compound-complex sentence. The possibilities are endless: You need only understand the four types and practice their combined sound and flow to become a master of melodious writing.

Posted on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, at 11:00 pm

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