Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures: Part Two



Understanding sentence structures helps us shape the art of good writing. In Part One of our discussion, we identified the four foundational sentence constructions and reviewed the first two, simple and compound sentences.

We’ll next look at complex and compound-complex sentences.

Complex Sentence

A complex sentence has one independent main clause and at least one dependent clause, a clause that cannot stand alone as a sentence. Dependent clauses usually begin with a word such as when, because, or that to indicate their reliance.

Examples:
when we go to school
because it is raining
that are collected

In complex sentences, dependent clauses function as sentence modifiers:

Examples:
When we go to school (dependent clause), we will receive the assignment (main clause).
We cannot go out (main clause) because it is raining (dependent clause).
The team owners give the star all of the accolades (main clause) that should be shared among several players (dependent clause), which causes unspoken tension in the locker room (dependent clause).

Compound-Complex Sentence

A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent main clauses and at least one dependent clause:

While Sheila painted (dependent clause), Ricardo installed the new shelves (main clause); they wanted to finish as much as they could before dinner (main clause).
The game stops (main clause) if it rains (dependent clause), but it resumes (main clause) if the rain lets up (dependent clause).
The people [who are still in line (dependent clause)] will have to wait another hour (main clause), and even then they might not get in (main clause).

Avoiding Loose/Protracted Sentences

Complex sentences give us a tool for avoiding loose and protracted compound constructions similar to those we considered in Part One. Such constructions can occur when we string multiple clauses together.

Loose/Protracted: The Amazon rainforest is the world’s biggest, and it is larger than the next two largest rainforests combined, and it covers an area about the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States.
Better as Complex: The Amazon rainforest, which is the world’s biggest, is larger than the next two rainforests combined, covering an area about the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States. 

Loose/Protracted: She is a prolific corporate attorney, and she earns a notable salary, but she works long hours, and she has little time on the weekends. 
Better as Compound-Complex: She is a prolific corporate attorney who earns a notable salary, but she works long hours, leaving little time on the weekends. 

In Part Three of “Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures,” we will recap the four sentences types and how to use them for style and effect in our writing.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, identify whether each example is a complex sentence or a compound-complex sentence.

1. I won’t go unless she goes too.
a. Complex
b. Compound-Complex

2. Because I am young, I am impetuous, and because I am impetuous, I make others aware of my youth.
a. Complex
b. Compound-Complex

3. The hourglass will run out if the wizard does not soon return with his potion.
a. Complex
b. Compound-Complex

4. The teacher, who is also my neighbor, is leading tonight’s roundtable discussion; it will begin at around seven p.m.
a. Complex
b. Compound-Complex

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I won’t go unless she goes too.
a. Complex (The sentence has one main clause and one dependent clause.) 

2. Because I am young, I am impetuous, and because I am impetuous, I make others aware of my youth.
b. Compound-Complex (The sentence has two main clauses and two independent clauses.) 

3. The hourglass will run out if the wizard does not soon return with his potion.
a. Complex (The sentence has one main clause and one dependent clause.) 

4. The teacher, who is also my neighbor, is leading tonight’s roundtable discussion; it will begin at around seven p.m.
b. Compound-Complex (The sentence has two main clauses and one dependent clause.)

Posted on Tuesday, April 30, 2019, at 11:00 pm

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7 Comments on Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures: Part Two

7 responses to “Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures: Part Two”

  1. Habib says:

    What is the difference between these two sentences?
    a. I like cooking my friends and chocolate.
    b. I like cooking, my friends and chocolate.

    • Both a. and b. are simple sentences. The first sentence says that you like to cook your friends and you like to cook chocolate. You could simply change “and” to “in” and cook your friends in chocolate.

      As we mention in Rule 1 of Commas, we have a preference for including the Oxford, or series, comma. Placing it immediately after friends clarifies the three things you like. However, we would caution that the sentence lacks parallel structure. A better sentence might be I like cooking, spending time with my friends, and eating chocolate.

  2. jim lynch says:

    Excellent topic!

  3. T.J. says:

    A legal transcription business I have done transcripts for insists that therefore should never be a comma before the word “that” in a sentence, only a semi-colon. This rule is stated vehemently in their transcription manual, and disobeying it can potentially end a transcriber’s contract. What say you?

    • In our response we assume that the word therefore should be there.
      Perhaps we are lacking context, but we are surprised that there would be such strict adherence to a guideline for formal grammar in situations where spoken words are being transcribed into written form. Not everyone is capable of thinking and speaking using correct grammar at all times. Our article above states:
      Rule 3: That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses.
      NOTE: Essential clauses do not have commas surrounding them, while nonessential clauses are surrounded by commas.
      Using the second example under Rule 3, suppose a person whose words you are required to transcribe says, “The editorial claiming racial differences in intelligence that appeared in the Sunday newspaper upset me.” As a professional transcriber, are you going to seemingly adhere to Rule 3 by leaving out commas because of the word that, or will you follow the NOTE and insert commas because you recognize the clause to be nonessential?

      In addition, we have the complications acknowledged in our post of March 17, 2015, That and Which: Rule or Guideline?
      You are certainly left in a difficult situation if your contract is at stake.

  4. Susan says:

    From your article:
    Loose/Protracted: The Amazon rainforest is the world’s biggest, and it is larger than the next two largest rainforests combined, and it covers an area about the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States.
    Better as Complex: The Amazon rainforest, which is the world’s biggest, is larger than the next two rainforests combined, covering an area about the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States.

    I would like to suggest an alternate Complex sentence: Covering an area about the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States, the Amazon rainforest, which is the world’s biggest, is larger than the next two rainforests combined.

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