Sentence Structure – Syntax

Learn to identify 1. Simple, 2. Compound, 3. Complex, and 4. Compound-Complex Sentences. Understand how to use these sentence structure depending on the message and the occasion.

a precious rope bridge extending from one cliff to another

What is Sentence Structure?

It is a way of categorizing sentences by identifying the absence or presence of

From this perspective, the English sentence has four major building blocks:

1. Simple Sentence Structureone independent clause (IC). 
2. Compound Sentence Structuretwo independent clauses (IC IC) connected by a coordinating conjunction.
3. Complex Sentence Structureone independent clause and one or more dependent clauses (IC DC) or (IC DC DC).
4. Compound-Complex Sentence Structuretwo independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses (IC IC DC) or (IC DC IC) or (DC IC IC) etc.

Related Concepts: Sentence Type; Sentence Patterns


How Do I Know When or How to Vary Sentence Structure in my Writing?

Writers, speakers, and knowledge workers . . . probably don’t need to think about it when they are first drafting a project. Eventually though, after revising has given way to editing, it’s time to analyze your work at the sentence level.

> 8 wordsvery easy (primer or grade school style)
> 11 wordseasy
> 14 wordsfairly easy
> 17 wordsstandard, high school educated
> 21 wordsfairly difficult
> 25difficult
> 29very difficult
  1. First, you want to affirm the Given/New Principle. IOWs, check that the flow of new information is trending from what is known, what is commonplace between the author and audience, to what is new.
  2. Consider the average word length of your sentences in relation to educational level of the audience. You might try an online readability checker as well.
  3. Consider subordinating one idea to another while keeping the Given/New Principle.
  4. Consider the average word length of your sentences in relation to educational level of the audience. You might try an online readability checker as well.
  5. Consider subordinating one idea to another while keeping the Given/New Principle in mind.

Examples of the 4 Sentence Structures in English

1. Simple Sentence Structure

This pattern contains one independent clause (IC). 

2. Compound Sentence Structure

A compound sentence contains two independent clauses (IC IC) connected by a coordinating conjunction.

3. Complex Sentence Structure

A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses (IC DC) or (IC DC DC).

4. Compound-Complex Sentence Structure

A compound-complex sentence contains two independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses (IC IC DC) or (IC DC IC) or (DC IC IC) etc.

Recommended Resources

Conference on College Composition and Communication. (2021, June 30). CCCC statement on Ebonics. CCCC. https://ncte.org/statement/ebonics/

Conference on College Composition and Communication. (2014, November). Students’ right to their own language. CCCC. https://cccc.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/srtolsummary

National Council of Teachers of English. (2022, July 1). Why is grammar important? NCTE. https://ncte.org/statement/qandaaboutgrammar/

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