Much like people and potato chips, sentences come in all shapes and sizes. Complex sentences contain at least one subordinate (or dependent) clause, and they can be a great way to add some extra depth and variety to your writing.
Complex sentences are friends and neighbors to compound sentences. There’s only one difference. Compound sentences contain two independent clauses. Complex sentences have an independent clause and a dependent clause.
An independent clause has the ability to stand alone as a sentence. It always makes a complete thought:
- Katie sipped on her cappuccino.
This is an independent clause because it's a complete sentence containing a subject and a verb and fully expressing an idea.
A subordinate clause, also known as a dependent clause, cannot stand alone, even though it has a subject and a verb:
- While Katie sipped on her cappuccino…
Although this clause contains a subject (Katie) and a verb (sipped), it's not a complete thought. Therefore, it’s not a complete sentence.
When an independent and a dependent clause join together to form a complex sentence, they can go in either order.
Here's an example where the independent clause comes first:
- I was snippy with him because I was running late for work.
Here’s an example where the dependent clause comes first:
- Because I was running late for work, I was snippy with him.
To connect independent and dependent clauses, you need subordinating conjunctions like “after,” “while” or “since.” If the dependent clause comes first, you will generally need to separate the clauses with a comma.
Be mindful of your comma usage. Whenever you detect a pause or distinction from your independent clause, check if you need a comma. (See what we did there?) Sometimes it helps to read your work aloud because you'll "hear" where a comma needs to be placed.
Complex sentences are a common component of everyday life. Aside from adding flow and variation to conversations, they keep you from sounding robotic and terse.
- Because my coffee was too cold, I heated it in the microwave.
- Although he was wealthy, he was still unhappy.
- She returned the computer after she noticed it was damaged.
- Whenever prices go up, customers buy fewer products.
- Because I had to catch the train, and as we were short on time, I forgot to pack my toothbrush for our vacation.
- As she was bright and ambitious, she became a manager in no time.
- Wherever you go, you can always find beauty.
- Evergreen trees are a symbol of fertility because they do not die in the winter.
- Although it was very long, the movie was still enjoyable.
- You should take your car in for a service because it's starting to make weird noises.
- The actor was happy he got a part in a movie even though the part was small.
- After the tornado hit, there was very little left standing.
- The museum was very interesting, as I expected.
- Now that he's rich and famous, people make allowances for his idiosyncrasies.
- Even though he's thoroughly trained, he still makes a lot of mistakes.
- Since winter is coming, I think I'll knit a warm sweater because I'm always cold.
- When she was younger, she believed in fairy tales.
- I have to save this coupon in case I come back to the store tomorrow.
- Let’s go back to Chez Nous because it's where we had our first date.
- Although my friends begged me, I chose not to go to the reunion.
- As genes change over time, evolution progresses.
- I really didn’t like the movie even though the acting was good.
- When he got a cream pie smashed in his face, everyone laughed.
- After being apart for years, he still had feelings for her.
If you opened any book to any page, chances are pretty good that you’d see a complex sentence. Literature is full of unique complex sentence examples.
- “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” - Walden, Henry David Thoreau
- “The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman stood up in a corner and kept quiet all night, although of course they could not sleep.” - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
- “Because he was so small, Stuart was often hard to find around the house.” - Stuart Little, E.B. White
- “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” - One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- “As Grainier drove along in the wagon behind a wide, slow, sand-colored mare, clusters of orange butterflies exploded off the blackish purple piles of bear sign and winked and fluttered magically like leaves without trees.” - Train Dreams, Denis Johnson
Complex sentences allow you to add a little more detail in a sentence. Have fun with creating complex sentences to add dimension to your writing and conversations. Make sure you get that dimension right by reviewing eight times commas were important.