Complex Sentence

1. What is a Complex Sentence?

A complex sentence is a sentence with an independent clause and a dependent clause. It is one of the four main types of sentence structures. In a complex sentence, the independent clause shares the main information, and the dependent clause(s) provide details. Complex sentences let us share lots of information with just one sentence.

 

2. Examples of Complex Sentences

In the examples below, independent clauses are orange and dependent clauses are green.

  • When the dog went to the county fair, he ate popcorn.
  • If the dog goes to the county fair, he will eat popcorn.
  • The dog went to the county fair after he smelled popcorn.
  • The dog went to the county fair when he smelled the popcorn.

As you can see, sometimes the independent clause comes first, and sometimes the dependent clause comes first.

 

3. Parts of Complex Sentences

All complex sentences have one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. They often also include dependent “marker” words or coordinating conjunctions.

a. Independent Clause

An independent clause is a clause that can exist as a sentence on its own. It has a subject and a predicate and makes sense as a complete sentence. As mentioned, the independent clause shares the main information of a complex sentence.

  • The dog ate popcorn.
  • The dog ran quickly.
  • He ate popcorn.
  • He went to the county fair.

So, you can see that all of the clauses above are working sentences. All complex sentences have ONLY one independent clause.

b. Dependent (Subordinate) Clause

A dependent clause has a subject and a predicate; BUT, it can’t be a sentence. It provides extra details about the independent clause, and it doesn’t make sense on its own, like these:

  • After he went to the fair
  • Though he ate popcorn
  • While he was at the county fair
  • When the dog smelled popcorn

Though all of the examples above contain subjects and predicates, none of them make sense. Each leaves an unanswered question. By itself, a dependent clause is just a fragment (an incomplete sentence). So, it needs to be combined with an independent clause to be a sentence.

Complex sentences have at least one dependent clause, but they can have two or more.

c. Dependent “Marker” Words/Subordinating Conjunctions

A dependent marker word (also called a subordinating conjunction) goes at the beginning of an independent clause. It turns an independent clause into a dependent clause by adding details like time or context. Common dependent marker words include after, although, as, because, before, even if, even though, if, since, though, unless, until, whatever, when, whenever, whether, and while. Let’s start with an independent clause:

He was at the county fair = Independent clause

Now, add a dependent marker word, like “when”:

When he was at the county fair = Dependent clause

Here are some complex sentences with the marker words underlined:

  • When he was at the county fair, the dog ate popcorn.
  • Though he likes cotton candy, the dog loves popcorn.
  • The dog gets a stomachache if he eats popcorn.
  • The dog went to the county fair when he smelled the popcorn.

Notice that when the sentence starts with a subordinating conjunction, there is a comma at the end of the dependent clause. When the subordinating conjunction is in the middle of the sentence, there is no comma.

This is different from what you’ve learned with compound sentences! So, remember when there is a subordinating conjunction in the middle of a sentence you don’t need a comma.

 

4. How to Write a Complex Sentence

Complex sentences are very common and pretty easy to write, as long as you remember their rules. When writing a complex sentence, you should follow these important guidelines:

  1. All complex sentences have an independent clause and a dependent clause.
  2. Complex sentences can have more than one dependent clause.
  3. To connect independent and dependent clauses, you need dependent marker words and/or subordinating conjunctions.
  4. Dependent marker words come at the beginning of a complex sentence.
  5. When a dependent marker word comes at the beginning of a sentence, you need a comma at the end of the dependent clause.
  6. When a dependent marker word comes in the middle of the sentence, you do not need a comma.

Test your Knowledge

1.
TRUE or FALSE: A complex sentence can have one or more independent clauses.

a.

b.

2.
Select the independent clause in this sentence:

If you make pancakes, you should serve them with syrup, or else they will be too dry.

a.

b.

c.

3.
Select the dependent clause in this sentence:

Pancakes are delicious, but not without syrup.

a.

b.

c.

4.
TRUE or FALSE: A dependent clause needs an independent clause to make a complete sentence.

a.

b.

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