Compound Complex Sentences

Ah, the compound-complex sentence. This term sounds ... complex. But don't worry! When you've got a few key terms and characteristics down, you'll find that compound-complex sentences aren't as complex as they seem.

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    Definition of a Compound-Complex Sentence

    A compound-complex sentence is a combination of two other sentence types: the compound sentence and the complex sentence.

    A compound sentence is a sentence that contains more than one independent clause.

    A complex sentence is a sentence that contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

    Put these definitions together, and you have the definition of a compound-complex sentence.

    A compound-complex sentence is a sentence that contains more than one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

    A few more definitions are necessary to completely understand this concept. Here is a general refresher.

    • The subject of a sentence is what the sentence is about. It primarily consists of a noun or pronoun.
    • The predicate of a sentence is what describes the subject. It primarily consists of a verb.
    • A clause is a meaningful group of words made up of a subject and a predicate.
    • There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent.
      • An independent clause (also called a main clause) is a clause that can exist alone as a full sentence.
      • A dependent clause (also called a subordinate clause) is a clause that can't exist alone as a full sentence.
    • A coordinating conjunction is a word that joins two words, phrases, or clauses (like and, but, and or).
    • A subordinating conjunction is a word that introduces a dependent clause (like where, that, and which).

    In this StudySet, pink text marks independent clauses, blue text marks dependent clauses, and purple text marks coordinating conjunctions.

    Characteristics of a Compound-Complex Sentence

    As the definition states, a compound-complex sentence has to have at least two independent clauses, like a compound sentence. Here is an example of this condition.

    A compound sentence is basically two simple sentences squished together.

    My mom dropped us off at school and Max brought us back home.

    This sentence consists of two independent clauses: My mom dropped us off at school and Max brought us back home. Each clause can exist as its own sentence. They are joined with the coordinating conjunction and.

    The independent clauses in a compound sentence are joined with a semicolon or with a coordinating conjunction (like and, but, and or).

    You shouldn't sign up for so many classes in one semester; you'll be too busy.

    I should go outside, but it's too hot out there.

    When you remove the semicolon or coordinating conjunction, each clause can stand alone as a simple sentence. Both clauses in each sentence are independent clauses.

    A compound-complex sentence also has to have at least one dependent clause, like a complex sentence. Here is an example of a complex sentence:

    Please feed the cat before you leave today.

    The first clause, please feed the cat, is an independent clause. It can exist as a complete sentence. The second clause, before you leave today, doesn't make a full sentence without the first clause. This is a dependent clause.

    A dependent clause can start with words like before, that, since, if, when, where, and after. In this context, these words are called subordinating conjunctions.

    If we're going to be late anyway, we might as well stop for lunch.

    The first clause in this example is the dependent clause: if we're going to be late anyway. The second is the independent clause: we might as well stop for lunch.

    When a dependent clause comes before an independent clause in a complex sentence, it must end with a comma.

    Compound-complex sentences, Illustration of a person clinging to another person, StudySmarterFig. 1 - A dependent clause has to cling onto an independent clause in a compound sentence.

    A compound-complex sentence has to behave as both a compound sentence and a complex sentence.

    • A compound-complex sentence must contain two or more independent clauses.
    • A compound-complex sentence must contain one or more dependent clauses.

    Any sentence that meets these two criteria is a compound-complex sentence.

    Function of a Compound-Complex Sentence

    Sometimes a string of short, simple sentences can't effectively express a complicated thought. It can make your writing seem stunted and awkward to a reader. Compound-complex sentences combine these simple sentences into longer strings of thought.

    This is an example of several small sentences.

    These ideas are not supported by science. You know that. You still insist on them. It's as if your life depends on it.

    These four sentences get their message across, but they do it inefficiently. A compound-complex sentence could communicate this message more effectively.

    You know that these ideas are not supported by science, but you still insist on them as if your life depends on it.

    This example combines all the previous sentence's examples into a compound-complex sentence. This sentence flows better and gets its point across more effectively.

    Compound-complex sentences aren't always the best option—sometimes simpler is better!—but in the right context, they create effective persuasion and elegant writing.

    Types of Compound-Complex Sentences?

    All sentences, including compound-complex sentences, are divided into four types based on their purpose of communication: declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, and imperative.

    Declarative Compound-Complex Sentence

    The compound-complex sentences you've seen so far have been declarative. Declarative sentences declare that something is true or false.

    A declarative compound-complex sentence makes a statement and ends with a period.

    I can take you home after the game is over, but Patrick will be coming too.

    In this example, the two independent clauses are I can take you home and Patrick will be coming too. The independent clauses are joined by the coordinating conjunction but. The dependent clause is after the game is over. The sentence makes a clear statement and ends with a period.

    Interrogative Compound-Complex Sentence

    Another purpose of communication is interrogation. The word may sound threatening, but it simply refers to asking questions.

    An interrogative compound-complex sentence asks a question and ends with a question mark.

    Are you working the closing shift after we finish school today, or are you free to go out with us?

    In this example, the two independent clauses are are you working the closing shift and are you free to go out with us, joined by the coordinating conjunction or. The dependent clause is after we finish school today. The sentence asks a question and ends with a question mark.

    Exclamatory Compound-Complex Sentence

    An exclamatory sentence is a declarative sentence with intensity. It exclaims, rather than simply stating.

    An exclamatory compound-complex sentence makes an exclamation and ends with an exclamation point.

    If you hadn't eaten the whole pie, I would have had some after work and Ellie would have taken some for lunch!

    This example's two independent clauses are I would have had some after work and Ellie would have taken some for lunch, joined by the conjunction and. The dependent clause is if you hadn't eaten the whole pie. The sentence ends with an exclamation point, signaling an exclamatory compound-complex sentence.

    Imperative Compound-Complex Sentence

    An imperative sentence commands its subject to do something.

    An imperative compound-complex sentence makes a command and ends with a period or an exclamation point.

    Please go get the mail when you get home, and take your little sister with you.

    The independent clauses are please go get the mail and take your little sister with you, joined by the conjunction and. The dependent clause is when you get home. The sentence makes a command and ends with a period.

    It might seem like an imperative sentence doesn't have a subject. Don't let this confuse you! Imperative sentences have an understood subject pronoun of you.

    Examples of Compound-Complex Sentences

    Certain sentence structure elements, like prepositional phrases, compound subjects, and compound predicates, can disguise themselves as independent and dependent clauses. This can make it difficult to recognize a compound-complex sentence. Here are some tricky examples.

    Compound-Complex Sentences vs. Prepositional Phrase

    Many subordinating conjunctions that signal dependent clauses also function as prepositions. Sometimes, these words disguise prepositional phrases as dependent clauses.

    This is not a compound-complex sentence:

    I'm not hungry, but I'll want to eat something before work.

    In this example, before work seems like a dependent clause. Notice, though, that it doesn't contain a verb. Because it doesn't have a predicate, before work is a prepositional phrase, not a dependent clause. Without a dependent clause, this is not a compound-complex sentence.

    If this example were a compound-complex sentence, it would look like this:

    I'm not hungry, but I'll want to eat something before I go to work.

    Before I go to work has both a subject and a predicate, making it a clause.

    Compound-Complex Sentence vs. Compound Subject

    Coordinating conjunctions join two independent clauses, but they also join other sentence elements. In this example, a coordinating conjunction joins two subjects, not two independent clauses.

    This is not a compound-complex sentence:

    Your friend Mady and I are in the same class, if I remember correctly.

    The coordinating conjunction and connects Mady and I, forming a compound subject. The subjects belong to just one independent clause. With only one independent clause, this is not a compound-complex sentence.

    As a compound-complex sentence, this example would look like this:

    Your friend Mady is in this class, and I'm also in this class, if I remember correctly.

    The predicate is now repeated for each subject, separating a single clause into two independent clauses.

    Compound-Complex Sentence vs. Compound Predicate

    Like compound subjects, compound predicates are easily confused with independent clauses.

    This is not a compound-complex sentence:

    She just jumped out of the bus and rode away on her bike, all while balancing a book on her head!

    At a glance, she just jumped out of the bus and rode away on her bike seem like two independent clauses. But there is one issue. The subject she appears before jumped out of the bus, but not before rode away on her bike. Because the two verb phrases share one subject, they are part of the same clause. With just one independent clause, this sentence can't be compound-complex.

    Compound-complex sentences, illustration of a child on a bicycle, StudySmarterFig. 2 - They ride their bike as skillfully as they write compound-complex sentences.

    This example as a true compound-complex sentence would look like this:

    She just jumped out of the bus, and she rode away on her bike, all while balancing a book on her head!

    The subject she now appears before jumped off the bus and before rode away on her bike, forming two distinct, independent clauses.

    If you're unsure whether a sentence is compound-complex, follow these steps:

    • Identify every clause by asking yourself, "does this group of words include both a subject and a predicate?"
    • Determine whether each clause is dependent or independent.
    • Count the dependent and independent clauses. If there are at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause, the sentence is compound-complex.

    Compound-Complex Sentences - Key Takeaways

    • A compound-complex sentence is a sentence that contains more than one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.
    • Compound-complex sentences combine small sentences into longer strings of thought. They can express more complicated thoughts than a string of simple sentences.
    • There are four types of compound-complex clauses: declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, and imperative.
    • Certain sentence structure elements, like prepositional phrases, compound subjects, and compound predicates, can disguise themselves as independent and dependent clauses. This can make it difficult to recognize a compound-complex sentence.
    • To identify a compound-complex sentence, identify and count all the dependent and independent clauses.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Compound Complex Sentences

    What is a compound-complex sentence?

    A compound-complex sentence is a sentence that contains more than one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

    What is the difference between compound and complex sentences?

    A compound sentence is a sentence that contains more than one independent clause.


    A complex sentence is a sentence that contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

    What is an example of a compound-complex sentence?

    I'm not hungry, but I'll want to eat something before I go to work.


    This compound-complex sentence has two independent clauses: I'm not hungry and I'll want to eat something. It also has one dependent clause: before I go to work.

    What are the types of compound-complex sentence?

    There are four types of compound-complex sentences: declarative, which makes a statement; interrogative, which asks a question; exclamatory, which makes an exclamation; and imperative, which makes a command.

    What are the features of a compound-complex sentence?

    • A compound-complex sentence must contain two or more independent clauses.
    • A compound-complex sentence must contain one or more dependent clauses.


    Any sentence that meets these two criteria is a compound-complex sentence.

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