A compound sentence is a complete sentence that contains two or more independent clauses joined by a conjunction, a semicolon, or a semicolon and a transitional word or phrase.
The English language has many types of sentences. Sentences can be simple, compound, or complex; you can even have a compound-complex sentence. It’s dizzying, so to keep everything clear, we will focus on the compound sentence.
A dependent clause depends or counts on another part of the sentence to carry its weight. An independent clause can exist by itself as a sentence; it is a complete thought or complete sentence.
A simple sentence presents us with one independent clause.
Melville sprinkles simple sentences among his many other sentences like seasoning in fine cooking. Here is one from Chapter 3 of Moby Dick:
Admittedly, it makes you curious: poison?
That is part of the value of a simple sentence. It has an impact. It is easily and quickly absorbed. It provides a rest area for your mind.
Within a sentence or two of that simple sentence, though, Melville writes:
This is a compound sentence. It combines independent clauses using the conjunction (connecting word) "but" :
Notice how the conjunction "but" stitches the clauses into a longer, more elegant sentence. Here is the same long, elegant sentence broken into its two independent clauses:
Melville could have written the sentence that way. You can write compound sentences in three different ways, or break them apart into two simple sentences.
You can avoid compound sentences entirely by ending every thought with a period. Melville chose not to do that so he could continue his rhythm of short, medium, and long sentences.
Joining independent clauses requires either a semicolon, a semicolon and a transitional expression, or conjunctions, which are connecting words. Instead of ending an independent clause with punctuation (?, !, .) you end with a conjunction.
Here is a list of conjunctions you can use to create compound sentences:
An easy mnemonic to remember these conjunctions is .
The easiest way to identify compound sentences in literature is to keep an eye out for a comma followed by one of the .
Here are examples of compound sentences from Melville’s massive work. One compound sentence example for each conjunction:
Compound sentences can also link together without one of the conjunctions. A semicolon can do all the heavy lifting, too. These are harder to spot because you are scanning for a puny piece of punctuation:
Melville makes glorious use of this method at the end of the first chapter of Moby Dick:
By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.
A semicolon can carry the weight or use a semicolon, a transitional expression, and a comma.
You have four choices when tangling with more than one independent clause:
Writing is an art because you learn when to use each particular tool; no solution is “right” 100 percent of the time. We just used a semicolon to stitch together those two independent clauses, and we are guessing you did not even notice.
Usually, transitional expressions bog your fiction down but can set a proper pace for an academic paper. A semicolon can often carry the load, but you may want to avoid vastly different independent clauses joined solely with a semicolon:
In that case, a transitional expression is called for:
Two problems with compound sentences are caused by attempts to be too clever or too brief:
Examples of both make clear the role of the mighty semicolon, the coolness of the coordinating conjunction, or the transitional expression's ponderous power:
Fused sentence: The elephants eat acacia trees, or grasses, twigs, and bark they sleep briefly. They move many kilometers in the hot sun to watering holes they drink thirstily.
Comma splices: The elephants eat acacia trees, or grasses, twigs, and bark, they sleep briefly, they move many kilometers in the hot sun to watering holes, they drink thirstily.
With the correct structure and punctuation, we have this:
All fixed: The elephants eat acacia trees, or they eat grasses, twigs, and bark; they sleep briefly. They move many kilometers in the hot sun to watering holes; therefore, they drink thirstily.
A semicolon is used to join the first and second clause (both independent), and a semicolon followed by a transitional phrase and comma combine the last two independent clauses.
After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:
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