Simple Simon Says: Know Your Sentence Types

Last week on the Underground we discussed the four main sentence types: declarative,
interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory. This week we’ll delve into the four categories of those sentence types:









To understand how to identify these categories, first we’ll need to understand the difference between independent and dependent clauses.

An independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence, or express a complete thought. It will always have a subject and a verb, as in the examples below:

            S     V 
The snow fell all day long.

           S     V
The dog jumped the fence.

             S          V
The college closed for the summer.

A dependent clause is not a complete sentence, and does not express a complete thought. A dependent clause does, however, contain a subject and a verb, but it cannot stand alone as a sentence, as in the examples below:

                            S           V
When the semester was over.

                    S      V
Because she stayed up all night.

               S     V
When they went to the movies.

Simple Sentence

A simple sentence contains one independent clause.

S  V
I eat blueberry muffins.

 S    V
You run fast.

  S     V
She can’t drive.

Compound Sentence

A compound sentence contains two independent clauses. The two clauses are joined by a conjunction (or coordinating conjunction).

 S     V                                       S      V
He cooked dinner, and she cleaned up.

He cooked dinner is a complete thought or sentence, with a subject and verb. She cleaned up is also a complete sentence with a subject and verb. The coordinating conjunction, and joins the two independent clauses together to form a compound sentence. See the examples below. Can you identify the subject and verb?

Winter is almost over, and spring isn’t far behind.

Joe quit his job, but he found a new one.

A Word on Comma Splices

In the previous examples of compound sentences, if you did not have a coordinating conjunction and merely separated the two independent clauses with a comma, you would be creating a comma splice, which is incorrect punctuation (and arguably the most common punctuation error).

Complex Sentence

Complex sentences are a bit more – complex. These sentence types have one (or more) independent clause and one dependent clause. In the examples below, the clauses are labeled. (Reminder: a dependent clause is dependent on an independent clause to complete the sentence.)

                 D                                                                       I
After John couldn’t find a job, he realized he should go back to school.

                     D                                                     I
While away on vacation, the neighbor’s house was burglarized.

                          D                                                                     I
Since Lisa was absent from class, she had to make up the exam on Monday.

Compound-Complex Sentence

A compound-complex sentence has at least one dependent clause, with multiple independent clauses. The two clauses are joined by conjunctions and subordinators (who, because, although, etc.). In the example below, the independent clauses are in green; the conjunction is in red; the subordinator in italics; and the dependent clause is underlined:

Catch-22 is widely regarded as Joseph Heller’s best novel, and because Heller served in World War II, the novel packs an extra punch(modified from Purdue Owl).

 See if you can label the sentence parts in the examples below:

Although I like to go sailing, I haven’t had the time to go lately, and I don’t have a sailboat anymore.

We decided that the movie was too violent, but our children, who like to watch scary movies, think they should be able to see it.

“For in the end, freedom is a personal and lonely battle; and one faces down fears of today so that those of tomorrow might be engaged.” (Alice Walker)

John, who briefly visited last month, won the prize, and he took a short vacation.

 How did you do?

The ability to identify and understand different types of clauses and sentence categories will not only help you punctuate sentences properly, but will also improve your writing style.

Questions? Comments? Need further help?






2 thoughts on “Simple Simon Says: Know Your Sentence Types

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