Sentence structures: Simple, Compound, and Complex

Modern readers seem to hate long sentences. I mean, there is a huge difference between, say, J.R.R. Tolkien and James Paterson. Tolkien`s writing may have been filed with a mixture of sentence structures but it was also constructed with a measured cadence that often waxed poetic. James Patterson sells a hell of a lot of books. If you look at his writing, his sentence structures are short and simple, for the most part.
The writers of today are not only fearful of long sentence structures, but many of them do not understand the syntax of compound and complex structures. I was editing a manuscript today at the press. I have to say that sometimes it`s a joy and at other times it can be mundane. That said, I was lucky enough to be working on a manuscript that was funny as hell but the writers sentences did not vary in terms of length and structure, much. He had a maze of compound and complex sentences. This makes for a difficult and eye burning read. Sometimes content and plot will save the day—but not always. He needed to use more pronouns, and vary his sentences from simple to the more complex to give a smoother flow to his writing.
Let`s review some simple definitions, rules, and examples of the main three sentence structures
The simple sentence structure is a subject + a verb + a direct object. Ex: John drove the car.
The above sentence has a transitive verb which requires a direct object. This is the most common simple sentence. There are VG (the verb that gives) and VC (the verb of consideration) structures that require a direct and indirect object, but we won`t get into these definitions in this post. See my post “Verb types and how to identify them” for more information in this topic.
As we move into the longer and more complicated sentences we start to see the most common mistakes: comma splices, run-on sentences, the improper use of conjunctions, and more. So, let`s take a look at the compound sentence first.
The compound sentence is comprised of two independent clauses that are joined by a coordination conjunction. The clauses could, therefore, stand alone; however, the writer saw a reason to connect them and not bring the reader to a full stop using a period. Most often writers do this for the sake of flow and sometimes clarity.
Some examples of compound sentences are as follows:
1)      Karen baked a cake, but the cake was burnt.
2)      I waited for Jack and Jill at class, and they had already left the building.
3)      Jim loves to go hunting, yet he will not take his brother with him.
Some Prescriptive Grammarians will argue—and I agree—that the use of the coordinating conjunction “and” is the most ambiguous of the conjunctions in that it says little to nothing about why the two independent clauses are connected. If writers over use this type of construction it weakens their writing. Coordinating conjunctions such as, yet, for, nor, but, so, and or—for example—give more meaningful introductions to the stream of thought heading into a connected independent clause.
I think it is important to mention relative clause and restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. These structures are another topic as well. They are important additions to sentences that help with clarity, flow, and additional information about a noun or subject in a sentence.
The complex sentence is comprised of an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.
A dependent clause lacks the complete subject + predicate combination (or does not represent a complete thought) needed to form a complete sentence or an independent clause. Here are some examples of dependent clauses:
1)      Because John came to the airport after lunch
2)      While at the park
3)      After they left on the motorcycle
These dependent clauses can be added to the front or the back of an independent clause to form a complex sentence structure. Dependent clauses will need a subordinating conjunction to connect to the independent clause which makes the complex sentence complete.
1)      I was late because John came to the airport after lunch.
2)      The dog chased her while at the park.
3)      She was afraid after they left on the motorcycle.
These are very simple example sentences; however, once you see the smaller building blocks of a sentence, you will begin to recognize that they are always the same in longer sentences.

S.W. Biddulph

Scott Biddulph is a published writer, author, and poet from North Georgia. He began writing as a youngster and followed his lifelong dream of reaching people through the written word when he returned to The University of North Georgia in 2013 to finish earning his BA/English with a concentration on publication and creative writing. His publications include the following: an eBook, Apples of Gold: A collection of inspirational short stories and poems (Smashwords, 2010) and a paperback, Voices from the Heart, (Createspace, 2012). His poetry is published in Papers and Publications Undergraduate Research Journal. Vol 3 (2014) and the award-winning Chestatee Review (Spring, 2015), among other places (Check his LinkedIn profile for a full list of his publications). He is currently working on publishing poetry, creative non-fiction, academic essays, and his memoir. ******** Scott has also worked as an intern editor for the University of North Georgia Press. As a freelance editor, he has done the layout and design of several books and magazines. He is currently working with several authors on various publication projects in which he is either ghostwriting, editing manuscripts, or doing the layout and design of their books. ******** Finally, and most importantly, he is a father, grandfather, husband, and dedicated Harley Davidson rider. He and his family enjoy the beauty of the North Georgia Mountains where they live—especially their screened in back porch where they love to bird watch. ******** ~ "I love realism. I love writing about the raw, down-to-Earth, heartfelt realities of life. I love to write in a way that reaches into the human soul—to take the greatest pains and struggles in life, and make them a blessing to others. Fantasy is a wonderful, interesting thing—but real-life situations, feelings, fears, and dreams are an unexplored ocean of stories that need to be told." ~ ~Scott Biddulph~

One comment

  1. I used to be a fan of James Patterson. It’s hard for me to stay interested in his books. They story line is great but his ability to keep my interest has died considerably. I currently have two of his novels I have yet to finish.

    Liked by 1 person

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