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The Four Types of Sentences

Sentences have two primary forms of clauses. They are known as the independent clause and dependent clause. These two types of clauses can be used to form four different types of sentences. There are simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences and compound-complex sentences. In written English, using a mixture of these types of sentences generally makes for the best reading experience.

  • The Simple Sentence

    A simple sentence consists of an independent clause, which means that it has a verb and a subject. The subject or the verb can be compound, but the sentence can only have one independent clause. No subordinate clauses or additional independent clauses are allowed. Here is an example of a simple sentence with one subject and one verb:

    Rosemary is a great spice.

    Here is a simple sentence with a compound subject and one verb:

    Salt and pepper taste wonderful.

    Finally, here is a simple sentence with a single subject and a compound verb:

    The doctor examines and talks to his patients.

  • The Compound Sentence

    A compound sentence is a combination of multiple independent clauses. Generally, the clauses are linked either by a conjunction or a semicolon. Here is an example of two independent clauses that are linked by the conjunction “but:”

    Arctic glaciers are melting, but this winter is very cold.

    A semicolon serves the same grammatical purpose as a conjunction in a compound sentence, but provides a slightly different visual “rhythm” than a conjunction. Here is an example of a compound sentence using a semicolon:

    The most innovative architects live in Los Angeles; the city inspires them.

    When choosing between using a semicolon or using a conjunction to connect two independent clauses, using a conjunction is generally a better choice than using a semicolon. Semicolons encourage the reader to pause and thoughtfully consider the statements being made. Conjunctions provide a smoother connection between statements. Using too many semicolons in a single piece of writing will ultimately annoy the reader.

  • The Complex Sentence

    A complex sentence is defined as having at least one dependent and one independent clause. Here is an example of a complex sentence with an independent clause and a dependent clause separated by the subordinating conjunction “until:”

    Driving a car is fun until you have to fill up the gas tank.

    Here is another example of a complex sentence, with the dependent clause coming first:

    While Marcy seems nervous, she is an accomplished cellist.

  • The Compound-Complex Sentence

    Finally, the compound complex sentence combines two or more independent clauses with one or more dependent clauses. The example below features a dependent clause followed by two independent clauses:

    When I bought my mattress, it had no sheets, so I purchased a fresh set.

  • Choosing Clauses

    There are no set rules to help you decide which types of sentences make for the best reading. While Hemingway made a career using primarily simple sentences, most writers purposefully vary their sentence types. When in doubt, read the work aloud. Rewrite it until it flows smoothly and makes perfect sense.

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