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Structural Classification of the English Sentences

There are six (6) types sentences based on structural classification. These are:

  1. Simple Sentence
  2. Complex Sentence
  3. Compound Sentence
  4. Compound-Complex Sentence
  5. Multiple Sentence
  6. Multiple-Complex Sentence.

Let us discuss them one after the other:

1.Simple Sentence

A simple sentence is one which has one main or independent clause. We also know this clause by the name alpha clause. It is main, independent or alpha because it can stand on its own, unlike the subordinate clause. See The English Simple Sentence. The structure or the composition of the simple sentence comprises the subject, the predicator, the complement and the adjunct. But the only obligatory element here is the predicator.  See a detailed discussion on the syntactic elements of the clause structure. Let us see some examples of the simple sentence:

  • This is my food.
  • I love you so much.
  • He has gone home
  • Pat bought a book this morning.
  • The hardworking farmer reaped a bumper harvest last year.

It is important to note that we do not determine whether a sentence is simple by how long or short it is. A sentence could be short and not be a simple sentence while another may be very long and still be a simple sentence. See these examples:

  • He left and disappeared for good.

This sentence is NOT a simple sentence though it contains only six words. See the next sentence that is very long, yet qualifies as a simple sentence:

  • Despite the big plate of rice with chicken and assorted meats, the boys still complained of serious hunger.
  • The long-awaited massive Airbus from the United States of America finally landed at the London Heathrow airport amidst pomp and pageantry with the crowds full of joy at yet another landmark and historic event in the history of mankind.

The first sentence has eighteen (18) words while the second sentence has a stunning forty (40) words, yet both of them are simple sentences. The point? Never determine a simple sentence by length, you will certainly be wrong. Let us see the next type of sentence under structural classification… You can check out more examples of Simple Sentences and a post dedicated fully to Simple Sentence: Definition with Examples.

2.Complex Sentence

A complex sentence has one main, independent or alpha clause and one or more subordinate, dependent or beta clauses. The absence of a subordinate clause will make the sentence a simple one. The beta clause could be as many as possible, depending on what is grammatically acceptable, but one main clause must be present to make the sentence qualify for a complex sentence. The subordinate clause in a complex sentence is usually introduced by a subordinator or a subordinate conjunction. We usually refer to these subordinators as ‘binders’ because they bind the subordinate clause to the main clause. Let us see some examples:

  • The boy failed the test because he did not work hard
  • He locked the gate before beating the stubborn goats
  • Even though the farmer worked hard the harvest was rather poor.
  • Despite reading all night, the girl failed the test.
  • If he had not run all the way home, he would have been caught in the rain.

I have dedicated a post to Complex Sentence in English; do check it out. You can also see Complex Sentence for Kids with Examples.

 3.Compound Sentence

The next type of sentence, based on structural classification, is the compound sentence. A compound sentence is a sentence with two main, alpha or independent clauses with no subordinate clause. That is, two clauses make up a compound sentence and the two of them are main clauses as we have in the following examples:

  • The boy won the game but he was not given the prize.
  • The food was badly cooked yet the starving boys ate it with relish.
  • The farmer worked very hard and reaped a bumper harvest.
  • My uncle asked if he should pay for my tuition or clear my accommodation bill.
  • He returned from work and immediately went to bed.

Note that each clause in a compound sentence can stand on its own as a complete sentence because each clause is actually a simple sentence joined by a conjunction. We refer to the items used to link the clauses in a compound sentence as coordinating conjunctions. These are: but, and, or. Some add ‘yet’ to the list but it is a ‘marginal conjunction’. We can also refer to the linking items as ‘linkers’ because they link items of equal grammatical weight or status; word and word, group and group, clause and clause then sentence and sentence. 

Compound-Complex Sentence

A sentence that is compound-complex is a sentence that has two main, alpha or independent clausesand one or more subordinate, beta or dependent clauses. In this type of sentence, one would find both a coordinator (linker) and a subordinator (binder) present. The linker joins the two alpha clauses while the binder(s) joins one of the alpha clauses with a subordinate clause. The following examples depict compound-complex structures:

  • Jane gave the class a test and marked the test papers before writing the correction on the board
  • The tenants refused to pay the house rent and gave the landlord a beating before the police arrived
  • The resident doctors went on strike and refused to treat patients because the government refused to pay their allowances.
  • Students prefer to buy phones and acquire other electronic gadgets with their money rather than buy textbooks.
  • He washed his clothes and ironed them before he slept.

Multiple Sentence

A multiple sentence is a sentence which has three (3) or more main, independent or alpha clauseswith no subordinate or dependent clause. Each of these clauses can stand on its own as a simple sentence. Consider these sentences:

  • He came, he saw and he conquered
  • John cleared the garage, washed the dirty cars and later went to the gym to play football.
  • She attended the interview, answered all the questions brilliantly yet she did not get the job.
  • He also drove out the nations before them, allotted them an inheritance by survey and made the tribes of Israel dwell in their tents.
  • He arrived the country on Friday, went to see his mother on Saturday and returned to Austria on Sunday.

 Multiple-Complex Sentence

This is the last type of sentences under structural classification of sentences. A multiple-complex sentence has three main, independent or alpha clauses plus at least one subordinate, dependent or beta clause. Examples of this sentence type include:

  • When he slew them then, they sought him and they returned and sought earnestly for God.
  • I came, I saw, and I conquered because I was determined since no assistance was forthcoming.
  • If the lawyers had not moved fast, the innocent man would have been ridiculed, made to refund the money he did not steal and thrown into prison.
  • As a philosopher who likes simplicity, he wrote in the condolence register: ‘life is simple and life is fragile.
  • I have had opportunity, in recent times, to interact closely with you and I have come to the conclusion painfully that if you can shun yourself to a great extent  of  personal  and  political  interests  and  dwell  more  on  the  national interest  and  also  draw  the  line  between  advice  from  selfish and self-centered aides and advice from those who in the interest of the nation may not tell you what you will  want  to  hear,  it  will  be 

Note that as a good writer or speaker of English, one should be able to vary one’s sentence patterns to avoid monotony and lacklustre expressions. Ability to vary one’s sentence patterns shows an understanding of different sentence patterns and this enriches your writing and makes your speech interesting.

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