Sentence Structure III. Complex Sentences

How to Get a Sentence in a Complex

by Owen Fourie

If you live in a complex, you do not want to do anything that can burn it down because that will get you a long sentence in jail. Writing a long complex sentence in grammar is a safer activity that should not get you into trouble.

The opening paragraph has two complex sentences. Let’s understand more about this particular sentence structure in our series in which we have already looked at the simple sentence and the compound sentence.

Sentences: from simple to compound to complex

For a moment, let’s see how two simple sentences are transformed into a compound sentence and then a complex sentence:

  • The silver car has new tires. It has spongy brakes. (simple sentences)
  • The silver car has new tires, but it has spongy brakes. (compound sentence)
  • Although the silver car has new tires, it has spongy brakes. (complex sentence)

What is a complex sentence?

The word although at the beginning of the above complex sentence is a subordinating conjunction, a part of speech that is used in this sentence structure.

A subordinating conjunction introduces a dependent clause, an essential element of a complex sentence.

A complex sentence must have an independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

Complex sentences may also be indicated by the presence of relative pronouns—who, that, which—introducing relative clauses:

The silver car, which they bought in Chicago, has new tires.

Clauses: independent and dependent

In the last example, the independent clause is in two parts, and its completion comes at the end of the sentence:

  • The silver car
  • has new tires.

The dependent clause is “which they bought in Chicago.”

An independent clause, such as “the silver car has new tires,” can stand on its own as a sentence and make complete sense.

A dependent clause cannot stand on its own. It is an incomplete thought: “which they bought in Chicago.” When it is attached to an independent clause, a complex sentence is formed.

Subordinating conjunctions

Here is a partial list of subordinating conjunctions:

after, although, as, because, before, if, since, though, unless, until, when, whenever, whereas, wherever, while, …

When you use these words in a sentence, you are introducing a dependent (or subordinate) clause, one of the essential elements of a complex sentence.

Dependent clauses can go first in a sentence

Here are examples where the dependent clause is placed first in a complex sentence with an independent clause following it:

  • Although the vehicles were not badly damaged, repairs would still be costly.
  • As it entered the intersection, the motorcycle collided with the silver car.
  • Before the accident occurred, the silver car had been in our driveway for a short time.
  • Wherever you find a four-way stop, you should be cautious.

Whenever a dependent clause is placed at the beginning of a sentence, it must be followed by a comma. Notice this in the above examples and in the previous sentence.

Independent clauses can go first in the sentence

Here are examples where the independent clause is placed first in a complex sentence with a dependent clause following it:

  • Repairs would still be costly although the vehicles were not badly damaged.
  • The motorcycle collided with the silver car as it entered the intersection.
  • The silver car had been in our driveway for a short time before the accident occurred.
  • You should be cautious wherever you find a four-way stop.

There is no comma following an independent clause that is placed at the beginning of a sentence. Observe this in the above examples and in the previous sentence.

Effective use of a complex sentence

Putting a dependent clause at the beginning of a complex sentence turns it into what is known as a periodic sentence. This is a tool of rhetoric—the art of using language effectively and persuasively.

By placing the independent (or main) clause, or the completion of that clause, at the end of the sentence, you can create the effect of suspense:

The driver of the silver car, who began to look apprehensive, could produce neither his license nor his insurance papers.

Let’s conclude with the earliest set of examples in this article:

  • The silver car has new tires. It has spongy brakes.

  • The silver car has new tires, but it has spongy brakes.

  • Although the silver car has new tires, it has spongy brakes.

Only the last of these sentences—the complex sentence—indicates what is important, that the silver car has spongy brakes.

Complex sentences are usually more effective than compound sentences and simple sentences because they give the reader a better grasp of the relationship of ideas and their order of importance.

In the concluding article of this series on sentence structure, we’ll look at the compound-complex sentence.

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Do you have any special technique to help you to produce a good mix of sentence structures in your essays? If so, please tell us what you do to achieve this. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips www.englishessaywritingtips.com


2 comments

    • maisa on January 14, 2015 at 07:48
    • Reply

    Indeed these information are very useful and benefit for who needs to introduce for an international exam as IELTS as me.
    Although I used to simple sentences, neither my vocabulary were strong nor my essay. So nowadays I learned more and I need to practice that to be the best.hopefully.
    Thank you and my regards..
    Maisa

    1. Thank you for commenting, Maisa, and good luck with your IELTS exam. Click on the following link and look there for four links to “Improve Your English Writing Skills”. If you follow and practice the steps given in those articles, you will improve your English skills:
      http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/self-help/
      Kind regards from English Essay Writing Tips

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