Back to Basics: Complex Sentences
This lesson is way overdue. I apologize for the delay.
In the last basics lesson, I spoke about writing simple sentences, which are the building blocks of composition. You can write using only simple sentences. However, doing so will make your work sound simplistic, choppy, and monotonous. Complex sentence add a bit of variety to your writing, which increases interest and improves your "voice."
Topic and punctuation are key in writing complex sentences. Poor use of punctuation results in confusion and run-on sentences. Changes in topic place a phrase outside the idea being spoken of within the sentence, so those phrases would belong in a different sentence.
Let's take a look at the different forms complex sentences can take.
Compound sentences are a common form of complex sentence, and they are the simplest to understand. These are the sentences where two independent clauses are joined using a comma and a conjunction. An example would be: Suzy made an apple pie, and she gave it to her grandma.
Suzy made an apple pie, is an independent clause, meaning it is capable of being a simple sentence if left on its own. The same is true of the clause, she gave it to her grandma. Both sentences speak about the same topic: Suzy and the pie she made. Therefore, they can be connected with a comma after the first independent clause and a conjunction to form a compound sentence.
Conjunctions are connecting words such as and, but, if, however, and therefore.
Simple Sentence with Introductory Clause
These seem to be my personal favorite given the frequency in which I write them when roughing out new stories.An introductory clause is a group of words that define when, where, or how the rest of the sentence occurs, but it cannot stand on its own. These clauses should always be set off with a comma.
An example of a simple sentence with an introductory clause would be as follows. After she finished the pie, Suzy set it on the table. Here “after she finished the pie” is the introductory clause. “Suzy set it on the table,” is an independent clause, otherwise known as a simple sentence.
Simple Sentence with Dependent Clause
These sentences are a lot like simple sentences with introductory clauses, but the dependent clause can be placed anywhere within the sentence. Most often you will find them set off either with commas or preceded by the words “that” or “which.”
Here are a few examples.
Suzy set the pie on the table, which was across the room. The table, with three leaves added to it, was so big it lined the whole left wall. It was covered with a tablecloth that was only long enough to cover half of it.
The first and last examples have the dependent clauses at the end of the sentences, and the second has the dependent clause in the middle of the sentence.
This type of sentence can become tricky when determining whether or not you need a comma. The basic rule of thumb is to use a comma before, and after when necessary, if the dependent clause is not essential to what you are trying to say. If it is necessary, leave the commas out. However, when the dependent clause gives a concession, you’ll always want to set it off with a comma before the clause. Those will almost always start with words such as although, whereas, though, or even though. Think argument, counter argument.
Compound Complex Sentences
Our last group tends to be a headache. These are the sentences where you have two independent clauses joined together as well as a dependent clause somewhere in the mix. Punctuation can become tricky with them, and they easily become too wordy and complicated to convey a clear idea. Less is more with compound complex sentences.
An example would be as follows. By the time everyone arrived for dinner, Suzy’s pie had finished cooling, and it cut into beautiful, even slices.
In the example above you have an introductory clause followed by a one independent clause joined to another with a comma followed by the word “and.” For simplicity’s sake, approach these sentences as if they were their simpler version first. Follow the punctuation rules we discussed earlier when writing the complex sentence. Then follow standard punctuation when joining it to your other simple sentence. Although you can technically join two complex sentences, it’s unadvisable unless they are two short and simple ones. Otherwise you’re just begging to confuse your reader.
I came down with a cold Sunday afternoon before I had a chance to try and simplify this lesson for the elementary version. I'll include it with the next back to basics post. I don't want to try and write out a lesson when I'm so doped up on cold medicine, I'm having a difficult time staying awake. I doubt it'd make much sense.
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A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and the home-schooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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