English: the complex sentence

Tutoring high school English, sentence variety is a constant concern.  It’s the same situation for college students and writers.  The English tutor shares one commonly known – and appreciated – type of sentence.

Definitely, one preferred structure in high school English is what I’d call the complex sentence.  It has two parts: one dependent, one independent.  (The independent part can stand alone as a sentence, while the dependent part cannot.)  Let’s look at an example:

Because she set the burner too high, the eggs are rubbery.

In the sentence above, Because she set the burner too high is the dependent part (aka, dependent clause). It’s clearly a reason, but doesn’t make sense unless you know what for. The independent part (clause) is the eggs are rubbery . “The eggs are rubbery” has a subject and an action; it’s a standalone sentence. It’s not dependent on another idea because it doesn’t have a subordinating conjunction.

The subordinating conjunction in the sentence above is because. It makes she set the burner too high a reason for the other premise – that the eggs are rubbery. In a complex sentence, the subordinate – aka, dependent – clause exists to somehow serve the independent one. By “serve”, we mean give it more meaning. The subordinate clause in the example above explains the reason behind the independent one. However, the subordinate clause can relate to the independent one in other ways as well. For instance, the subordinate clause often expresses surprise or irony, as in the next example:

The ball game played as scheduled, although it was a rainy evening.

Once again, the dependent – or subordinate – clause is typed in green. In this example, the subordinating conjunction is although. It expresses surprise that, even with the rain, the game went on.

There are many common subordinating conjunctions: after, although, because, before, once, since, unless, while…., just to name a few.

When written correctly, complex sentences are generally appreciated by teachers as showing an advanced level of writing. Therefore, they’re worth understanding and getting right.

Now that I’ve started this thread, I’ll be talking more about it soon. Until then, enjoy this spectacular spring day!

Source: Hodges, Webb, Miller, Stubbs: Harbrace Handbook for Canadians.                              Scarborough: Nelson Education Ltd., 2003.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

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