Sentences can be classified in a number of ways—grammatically, rhetorically, functionally, and so on. One visitor to this site asks about grammatical sentence types:
How [do I] tell the difference between Compound, Simple, Complex, Compound-Complex sentences?
Before we can identify these sentence types, we need to understand the following terms:
- A group of words that may have a subject or a verb, but not both. (ex: in the beginning, to grow up, running around the room).
- Dependent Clause:
- A group of words that contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought. A dependent clause cannot be a sentence. Dependent clauses are sometimes referred to as subordinate clauses.
- Independent Clause:
- A group of words that contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought. An independent clause is a sentence. Independent clauses are sometimes referred to as main clauses.
Here’s a quick rundown of the grammatical sentence types, along with an example or two of each.
The simple sentence has a single subject-verb pair. In other words, it has only one independent clause and no dependent clause. Example 1 below is obviously a simple sentence. Example 2’s single verb gives it away. But what about example 3? Isn’t it too long to be a simple sentence?
- Jesus wept.
- Johnny threw the ball across the street.
- In the early morning, just before the breaking of the dawn, two lonely wanderers stretched their weary limbs and peered out of their makeshift tent.
I italicized the third example’s subject-verb pair so you can see that it really is just a simple sentence. The groups of words that come before the main part of the sentence are prepositional phrases, neither of them having a subject or a verb. Also, while there are two verbs in the independent clause (“stretched” and “peered”), they are both paired up with the same subject.
A compound sentence has two or more independent clauses, but it has no dependent clauses. The independent clauses can be joined by a semicolon; they can also be joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, or nor, for, but, yet, so).
- Fred wanted to play basketball, but he didn’t make the team.
- He would never eat a tomato again, nor would he throw one.
Although a complex sentence has only one independent clause, it may have more than one dependent clauses.
- Nancy was thrilled to receive the shoes that she ordered through the internet.
- I didn’t know what to say when I heard the news.
A compound-complex sentence, which may be the most difficult type to write, has more than one independent clause, and it has at least one dependent clause.
- While Sally washed the dishes, John swept the floor, and James wiped the counters.
- Michael, who has been working on collaborative songwriting through the internet, thinks that the medium shows great promise, but Norah is not so sure about the quality that such an endeavor can produce.
Here’s a little table I whipped together to show you the sentence types at a glance.