A complex sentence is one independent clause and at least one dependent clause joined by a subordinating conjunction. Complex sentences are one of the four basic types of sentences in the English language.
Complex sentences require at least three parts:
In writing, entire ideas expressed using a noun and verb (a subject and predicate) create independent clauses. Independent clauses can be complete sentences on their own.
Here is a wonderful succession of simple sentences (each an independent clause) from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis:
I’m in the midst of getting out of bed. Just have patience for a short moment! Things are not going so well as I thought. But things are all right.
Things certainly are not going well for Kafka’s protagonist because Gregor Samsa has turned into a “monstrous verminous bug.”
Dependent clauses, also called the subordinate clause, have a noun and verb but fail to express a complete thought. In these sentences penned by Kafka, the dependent clauses are underlined:
These examples have nouns and verbs, but they are not complete thoughts. If all Kafka had written was, “No matter how hard he threw himself onto his right side,” you would have no idea what was happening to Gregor Samsa.
If left by themselves, dependent clauses are sentence fragments.
You can write complex sentences in a few different ways. Here are some rules to help you construct complex sentences:
Here are four examples of complex sentences where the dependent clause comes first:
Here are those same four examples with the independent clause first:
In complex sentences, dependent clauses are linked to independent clauses with subordinating conjunctions. These are words that couple the two clauses together.
In many cases, these subordinating words come after the independent clause and just before the dependent clause like here:
But that would be extremely embarrassing and suspicious, because during his five years’ service Gregor hadn’t been sick even once.
Many words operate as subordinating conjunctions. They often cluster around concepts, like comparisons, time, reason, and conditions.
|Adding information about a person||who, whose, whoever, whom, whomever|
|Adding information about a thing||which, at|
|Condition||if, unless, as long as|
|Contrast||than, rather than, as much as, although, though, even though, while, whereas|
|Introducing reported information||that, whether, how|
|Purpose||so that, only if, even if, provided that|
|Reason||because, since, as|
|Time||now that, when, whenever, as soon as, while, as, once, until, after, before, by the time|
These are just some common subordinating conjunctions. This list is not exhaustive. Dozens and dozens of words and phrases can serve to join the dependent clause to the independent clause.
In addition to subordinating conjunctions, complex sentences can use three types of clauses, called subordinating clauses:
These take the place of adjectives, nouns, and adverbs.
Examples of adjective clauses working as dependent clauses in complex sentences might be:
Examples of noun clauses working as dependent clauses in complex sentences might be:
Examples of adverb clauses working as dependent clauses in complex sentences might be:
Kafka was a master of language; he had unwritten permission (from generations of readers) to violate all the “rules” of writing. You do not. When crafting your sentences, be careful to avoid traps with complex sentences.
In addition to complex sentences, there are three other types of sentences. Here are the four basic sentence types you have in the English language.
The different types of sentences have their own sentence structure. Learn more about the types of sentences structure.
After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:
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