Four Types of Sentences

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Confused about the different types of sentences? Or are you wondering what all the fuss is about? We answer both in this article.

What We Mean by “Types of Sentences”

This post is about types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and complex-compound. Writers use types and kinds interchangeably. But we prefer the “type” definition from GrammarHow.

“We use ‘type’ to distinguish the traits of members of a specific group.”

I focus on one kind of sentence—declarative—in this post. Other kinds of sentences include interrogative, imperative, and exclamative. We will discuss them in another post.

Why Is It Important to Know the Types of Sentences?

Grammar concepts can sometimes seem unnecessary. Why can’t you split an infinitive? Why can’t you end a sentence with a preposition? (See more here.) So why care whether a sentence is simple or complex?

Punctuation. If you use a compound sentence, a comma is required, but in a simple sentence it isn’t—at least not for connecting the sentences. (Comma rules related to conjunctive adverbs, items of a series, and coordinate adjectives are three exceptions.)

Sentence Variety. You can’t just use short sentences because you don’t know the comma rules. That would lead to tedious writing. So a writer need to become more confident and use commas correctly. If youunderstand sentence types, then you can write longer sentences and be confident that you are using commas correctly.

Meaning. An independent clause is a sentence, but the dependent clause needs to be combined with an independent clause. Two independent clauses are said to be coordinating clauses of equal importance. A dependent clause is also a subordinate clause, and it often supports the main idea. The correct use of dependent and independent clauses helps a reader understand the relationship between ideas.

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Simple Sentence

A simple sentence is a sentence that can stand by itself as another sentence. It cannot be split into two sentences, and it can contain more than one subject or verb.

A simple sentence has only one clause—an independent clause:

Josephine wore a purple velvet gown.

A simple sentence can have prepositional phrases.

At the New Year’s Eve Ball, Josephine wore a purple velvet gown with a satin cape.

This sentence is longer because of the additional prepositional phrases. But it is still a simple sentence because it still has only one clause. When we analyze sentence type, phrases don’t matter but clauses do.

Compound Sentence

A COMPOUND sentence has two (or more) independent clauses.

Philip saw Josephine, and he asked her to dance.

Philip saw Josephine descending the marble staircase in her purple velvet gown, and with a nervous voice, he asked her to dance.

Both sentences are compound because they have two independent clauses. When you’re analyzing sentence types, don’t look at the length. Only look at the clauses.

You can use a comma and a conjunction to join compound sentences. However, compound sentences can also be joined with a semicolon. (The post on Using Semicolons has more information on how to use them, and our post on Using Commas With And has more information about punctuation.)

Be careful—a conjunction does not automatically require a comma. The comma is only required if the sentence contains two independent clauses.

Complex

A COMPLEX SENTENCE has two clauses—one independent clause and one (or more) dependent clauses.

           After  they danced, they drank champagne.

The dependent clause can be placed after the independent one.

          They drank champagne after they danced.

It doesn’t matter whether the dependent clause comes first or last. As long as there is one of each, the sentence will be complex.

Compound-Complex

A COMPOUND-COMPLEX SENTENCE is typically a long sentence. It has at least three clauses. Like a complex sentence, it has a dependent clause. And like a compound sentence, it has two independent clauses.

The dependent clause can be at the beginning.

When the ball ended, Philip took Josephine to a restaurant, and they had an exquisite but expensive meal.

Or in the middle.

Philip took Josephine to an upscale restaurant with waiters in tuxedos when the ball ended, and they dined on caviar and watercress canapes.

Or at the end.

The dependent clause can also be at the end, but a compound-complex sentence usually doesn’t have a dependent clause at th end because readers often find themselves getting lost.

The order of the clauses doesn’t matter. If you find two independent clauses and a dependent clause, it is a compound-complex sentence.

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Practice Resources

Until we create our own quizzes, here are a few sites that offer good quizzes without a ton of pop ups.

  • ProProf has a few popups and ads, but the Simple, Compound, and Complex quiz is worth it because of the review feature.
  • Wordwall. Who doesn’t love a game show? This quiz doesn’t have a review feature, but the Gameshow Quiz is fun.
  • McGraw-Hill. If you want simplicity without distractions, check out this Grammar Exercise Four quiz.

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