Saying It All with the Compound-Complex Sentence

A red telephone.

Do you know what I love most about English grammar? How little there is to learn.

Everything is so simple, so straightforward. I never feel confused about any of it. That’s why everyone is so good at learning the ins and outs of English grammar: it’s so easy.

Ha, ha, ha. I know—I’m hilarious.

Of course, mastering the rules of any language is a challenge, but for some, English is a particularly difficult nut to crack. Take, for example, sentence structure. There are four basic sentence structures in English, and the first three—simple sentences, compound sentences, and complex sentences—are relatively easy to understand.

But what the heck is a compound-complex sentence? How many darn clauses can we possibly squeeze into one sentence, anyway?

A Quick Recap of Sentence Structure

If you’re having a hard time remembering what the different sentence structures are, take a look at the handy chart below. In the examples, independent clauses are marked by italics, while dependent clauses are in bold font.

A chart of the types of sentences.

Independent and Dependent Clauses Revisited

A quick reminder: an independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence, while a dependent clause cannot. It’s easy to distinguish the two types of clauses if you simply separate them from their sentence and see if they still make sense. For example:

I have never been a great student, but because I like grammar, I have spent a lot of time studying sentence structure.

There are two independent clauses in this sentence. These clauses can act as their own sentences:

I have never been a great student.

I have spent a lot of time studying sentence structure.

The dependent clause cannot stand on its own:

But because I like grammar.

As you can see, the dependent clause makes no sense on its own. It depends on the other clauses in the sentence to give it context and meaning. Because the full sentence contains two independent clauses and one dependent clause, it is a compound-complex sentence.

The Compound-Complex Sentence

Still confused? Fair enough. Let’s take a more extensive look at the compound-complex sentence. As mentioned, a compound-complex sentence is composed of two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. The compound-complex sentence is a combination of the compound sentence, which combines independent clauses, and the complex sentence, which combines an independent clause with a dependent clause. Let’s look at another example, preferably one that has nothing to do with grammar itself.

Here are all the things I want to say:

I am hungry.

I could eat an elephant.

I’ll eat a muffin instead.

Rather than using three simple sentences, I can combine all three thoughts into one compound-complex sentence:

I am so hungry that I could eat an elephant, but I’ll eat a muffin instead.

The two independent clauses have been joined by a conjunction (in this case, the subordinating conjunction that), and the dependent clause has been joined to the two independent clauses using another conjunction (but).

Here is another example:

I dislike mornings.

It’s very early to be at work.

I’m excited to go back to bed.

These simple sentences can be combined as follows:

I’m excited to go back to bed, as it’s very early to be at work, and I dislike mornings.

Still Stumped?

If you’re still struggling to grasp the compound-complex sentence, why not give this sentence structure quiz a try? Not only does it cover the most complicated of the sentence types, but it also tests you on the other three types. By the time you’re done, you’ll be identifying sentence structure types faster than I can express a desire for baked goods. And let me tell you, that’s pretty darn fast.

Image source: Luis Llerena/

Sentence Structure Ebook