The Trouble With Compound and Complex Sentences

This page was first published on the 25th of March, 2017 and last updated on the 25th of March, 2017 by Patrick Carpen.

I mentioned in my article “Why Students Fail English” that the English textbooks do a lousy job of clarifying certain concepts in the English Language. One such case is Compound and Complex Sentences, which I will address here.

We are told that a sentence is compound when it contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction: and, or, but, yet etc.

For example. I wanted to go but I didn’t have any money.

So, a sentence is compound because it contains two independent clauses.

First, let me define the clause for you: a group of words that contain a subject and a verb.

Let me define independent clause: a clause that makes sense by itself.

Dependent clause: a clause that relies on an independent clause to complete its meaning.

So we are told that the sentence: I wanted to to but I didn’t have any money, is a compound sentence.

Here is the breakdown:

I wanted to go: independent clause

but: coordinating conjunction

I didn’t have any money: independent clause.

Fair enough.

But let’s examine a complex sentence.

We left when the game was over.

We are told that this a complex sentence because it contains one principal clause and one dependent clause.

We left: principal clause

when: subordinate conjunction

The game was over.

Now tell if these two expressions don’t make sense by themselves:

1. We left

2. The game was over.

Of course they do.

So why label it a complex and not a compound sentence?

It’s a whole new ball game.

I think they should explain first of all that complex sentences are joined only by subordinate conjunctions and LIST exactly what the subordinate conjunctions are.


What really is theme in literature?

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