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Complex Sentences and Compound-Complex Sentences

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Complex Sentences

A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses.

To distinguish it from the other clauses, the independent clause in a complex sentence is called the main clause. In a complex sentence, each clause has its own subject and verb. The subject in the main clause is called the subject of the sentence; the verb in the main clause is called the main verb. An independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence; a dependent clause cannot.


1)As we were looking over your sign-in sheets for May and June,
subordinate clause
we noticed a number of minor problems.
main clause

2)While Mary went to the store,
subordinate clause
Bill stayed with the baby.
main clause

3)No one responded
main clause
when she rang the front doorbell.
subordinate clause

4)The owners of the small mountain inns rejoiced
main clause
as the snow fell.
subordinate clause

Compound-Complex Sentences

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

The compound-complex sentence is so named because it shares the characteristics of both compound and complex sentences. Like the compound sentence, the compound-complex has at least two main clauses. Like the complex sentence, it has at least one subordinate clause. The subordinate clause can be part of an independent clause.


1)Since my memo seems to outline our requirements fully,
subordinate clause
we are circulating it to all the departments;
main clause
please notify us if we can be of any further assistance.
main clause

2)When the heat comes,
subordinate clause
the lakes dry up
main clause
and farmers know that crops will fail.
main clause

The length of a sentence has no bearing on its type; simple sentences can be longer than complex ones. Neither is one type "better" than any other: do not assume that a complex sentence is superior to a simple or compound sentence because it may be "harder." As a general rule, suit the sentence to the subject.

Review of Sentence Forms

The following five sentence forms are the basic templates on which all English sentences are built—no matter how complex. Note that the variations occur in the predicate section of each pattern, while the subject portion remains the same.

1)Bond prices fell.
S + V = Bond prices + fell

2)Bob hummed the song
S + V + DO = Bob + hummed + song

3)The committee appointed Eve secretary.
S + V + DO + OC = Committee + appointed + Eve + secretary

4)The procedure was tedious.
S + V + SC = procedure + was + tedious

5)The clerk gave us the receipt.
S + V + IO + DO = clerk + gave + us + receipt

Sample Usage

As above.

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