7 Patterns of Sentence Structure

By Mark Nichol - 2 minute read

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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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7 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?”

  • caleb joseph

    Hey Mark,

    Okay, a bit about me and the topic at hand:
    I am a native English speaker from the United States, specifically Florida, and I have a degree in Linguistics and two minors(French and Spanish). Anyhow, I want to run this by you; I have stumbled on this book, Words on Words: A Dictionary for Writers and Others who Care about Words written by the late John Brenner, a couple of years ago at the library of my alma mater(Florida Atlantic University). In a section of his book, he classifies five types of the sentences(the four we know that have been taught in grammar courses and seen in grammar books): simple, compound, complex, compound-complex, and complex-complex sentence. That being said, I am happy to say that I now own a copy of the book, Words on Words written by the late John B. Bremner, which was extremely extremely affordable. I love his entry on sentences that I have decided to put the whole entry(including complex-complex sentence) here below and see what you think of it.This topic should be discussed, shared or spread in the grammar and linguistic communities and/or circles because I do believe that the late John Bremner has a very compelling case in introducing a complex-complex sentence. I say this because I have seen evidences of these types of sentences in books. I have always wanted to construct sentences like these. It is good to know that there is a name for such construction. It is safe to say that John Bremner was the only one(so far) to have identified it, described it and put it in his book. Almost all grammarians and some linguists are not aware of this sentence construction or grammatical structure. However, I may be wrong about that. Also, it does shed light on the fact that there is so much to learn about the grammar of the English language or any languages for that matter. I love it!!!

    The whole entry from John Bremner’s book:

    Sentences

    A sentence is a grammatical unit that conveys a complete thought and contains a subject and a predicate, either or both of which may be understated but understood. Sentences are principally classified as simple, compound, complex, compound-complex, complex-complex. Thus:

    -A simple sentence consists of one independent clause: “He knows almost nothing.”

    -A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction: “He knows almost nothing and he doesn’t want to study.” and “He knows almost nothing and he doesn’t want to study but he may change.”

    -A complex sentence consists of an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses: “He knows almost nothing because he refuses to study.” and “Because he refuses to study, he doesn’t know he should.”

    -A compound-complex sentence consists of two or independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses: “He knows that he should study but he doesn’t want to.” and “He knows that he should study but he doesn’t think that he has a chance of passing.”

    -A complex-complex sentence consists of an independent clause and a dependent clause that is subordinate to another dependent clause: “He got mad when I told him that he should study.”

    I do have to mention or point out that the late John Bremner had forgotten to put commas around the coordinating conjunctions in the compound sentence examples and compound-complex sentence examples. I do not know if he did that intentionally or mistakenly.

    I am hoping that you can produce one or a couple of them based on your understanding of this type of sentence structure.

    From my understanding of John’s definition of a complex-complex sentence, I could see permutations or variations of it and since there are three types of dependent clauses(noun clause, adjective clause and adverbial clause), I think that three dependent clauses should be used as a limit as to how many dependent clauses can be used, even though it is possible to produce more recursions of dependent clauses within this type of sentence and like compound-complex sentences. I do believe that this type of sentence structure should be used sparingly when one wants to vary the sentence structures in their writing and I also believe that it is good to be mentioned so that the readers can be aware of this type of construction in any body of literature. Below are schema of the possible variations of a complex-complex sentence:

    -Independent clause + dependent clause + dependent clause

    -Dependent clause + dependent clause + independent clause

    -Independent clause + dependent clause + dependent clause + dependent clause

    -Dependent clause + dependent clause + dependent clause + independent clause

    Maybe you can put this type of sentence structure in your next ariticle regarding sentence structures or on its own. By the way, feel free to share this with your students and colleagues.

    I’m hoping to hear from you.

    Thank You

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