7 Patterns of Sentence Structure

By Mark Nichol

Sentence structure can be categorized into seven patterns: one simple, three compound, two complex, and one compound-complex. Here are examples of each pattern with accompanying formulas, all to help you think of how to craft sentences in a greater variety of syntax:

1. Simple sentence (independent clause): “I went for a walk.”

(An independent clause is set of words that includes a subject and a predicate. It can be a sentence or part of one. A dependent, or subordinate, clause is one that cannot stand on its own but provides additional information to supplement an independent clause.)

2. Compound sentence, IC+CC+IC (independent clause plus coordinating conjunction plus independent clause): “I went for a walk, and I was soothed by the gentle night air.”

(Coordinating conjunctions are words that link one independent clause to another to form a compound sentence. These words can be recalled with the mnemonic FANBOYS and include for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.)

3. Compound sentence, IC+S+IC (independent clause plus semicolon plus independent clause): “I went for a walk; I was soothed by the gentle night air.”

4. Compound sentence, IC+AC+IC (independent clause plus adverbial conjunction plus independent clause): “I went for a walk; consequently, I was soothed by the gentle night air.”

(Adverbial conjunctions are adverbs that serve, when following a semicolon, to link independent clauses. They include consequently, however, moreover, nevertheless, therefore, and thus.)

5. Complex sentence, DM+C+IC (dependent marker plus clause plus independent clause): “Because I hoped to be soothed by the gentle night air, I went for a walk.”

(Dependent markers are words that provide a relative context for a subordinate clause. They include after, although, as, “as if,” because, before, if, since, though, until, when, where, whether, and while.)

6. Complex sentence, RP+C (relative pronoun plus clause): “Whatever doubts I had about taking a walk dissipated when I was soothed by the gentle night air.”

(Relative pronouns are pronouns that relate a subordinate clause to the noun it modifies. They include who, whom, whose, whoever, whosoever, whomever, which, what, whatever, and sometimes that.)

7. Compound-complex sentence, DC+IC+CC+IC (dependent clause plus independent clause plus coordinating conjunction plus independent clause): “As I headed out for a walk, my doubts about doing so dissipated, and I was soothed by the gentle night air.”

There are, of course, many variations to these patterns; even a simple sentence, for instance, can begin with the object in the example converted to the subject of another simple sentence: “A walk was my next order of business.”

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6 Responses to “7 Patterns of Sentence Structure”

  • Brian Wasko

    This kind of simple summary is helpful for teaching kids who get stuck into a monotonous sentence pattern. Thanks once again.

  • Bill Polm

    Yes, I would like to say that you folks forgot one essential sentence structure of modern English. What you have written and itemized is dated English, predominantly true of past decades and reaching really probably back to the Elizabethan era.

    What is this key sentence, it is the simple subject and predicate PLUS add-on, like nominative absolutes, noun clusters, propositional phrases…

    Such a sentence can be both free-flowing and disciplined as well as freeing. And in contrast to complex structures is often more easily and readily understood.

    “He sauntered down the street, his dog trotting close behind, wagging his tail, a tiny thing really whose rapid footwork was not quite in lockstep with her master.”

    Sure, simple, compound, complex and their various combinations still exist. But they are insufficient to capture the thought patterns of the citizen of our modern world.

    Relatively recent works on good writing have pointed to this important type of sentence. For example, Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark (pages 31 and following).

    And I should not forget one of the first writer/teachers to identify this type of sentence and its power, the late, brilliant professor Francis Christensen, University of Southern California in his Notes Toward A Modern Rhetoric, Six Essays for Teachers and his A New Rhetoric, competed by his daugther Bonniejean Christensen, The University of North Dakota.

  • Bill Polm

    And, let me add, I apologize for my typos.

    Including that example sentence which should read: “He sauntered down the street, his dog trotting close behind, wagging her tail, a tiny thing really whose rapid footwork was not quite in lockstep with her master.”

  • Agus Satoto

    Very practical and helpful. The ability to construct different types of sentences will greatly help improve our communication skills, especially writing and speaking. Thank you for the posting.

    Bekasi, West Java, Indonesia

  • Astrid

    Thanks for the refresher!

    Although Bill might be right saying that English has evolved, you need to know the basics in order to build on them. If you don’t know the rules, you can’t know how to bend them to your will. Or break them if necessary.

    With this in mind, we’ve taken your post and build upon it for the creative writers out there.

  • Dean Bush

    @Bill Polm, Shouldn’t you have also used “it” to refer to the dog instead of “his” or even “her?”

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