To understand sentence structure is to understand the grammatical building blocks of the English language. By having a strong grip on the structures of your sentences, you will be a more versatile writer.

In this article, we’ll break down what sentence structure is, what the four types of sentence structures are, and how to use them.

Sentence Structure Meaning

First, let’s define sentence structure

Before we get into the various types there are, let’s define what we mean when we talk about sentence structure.


What is Sentence Structure?

Sentence structure is how the basic grammatical elements of a sentence are put together. There are four types of sentence structure.

Sentence Structures:

  • Simple
  • Compound
  • Complex
  • Compound-complex

Still unsure what exactly sentence structure is? This video helps illustrate each component that makes a sentence a sentence, and then delves into each structure type (we’ll also get into that next).

Sentence structure summarized

Sentence Structure Examples

4 Types of Sentence Structure

Simple Sentences

The most basic type of sentence structure is the simple structure. This is when a sentence is composed of just one independent clause– a clause which contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought. A few examples:

  • I didn’t go to the game.

  • She was correct.

  • The writer was out of ideas.

  • The movie was over two hours long.

Compound Sentences

The compound sentence combines two or more independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction (or, and, but, yet, for, nor, so) or a semicolon. Here are some examples:

  • She was sick, so she didn’t go to school.

  • Greg kept his distance; he knew he was a dangerous man.

  • I was exhausted, but I worked all night.

  • Mom was still at work, and Dad was out to dinner.

Notice how all of these sentences could be broken into two: “She was sick. She didn’t go to school.” “Mom was still at work. Dad was out to dinner.” That’s because these sentences contain 2 independent clauses, which can be turned into simple sentences.

Complex Sentences

Complex sentences consist of an independent clause and a dependent clause. A dependent clause is an incomplete thought (eg. “Although I was sick,” “Because he was gone”) and thus needs to be attached to an independent clause. It’s also known as a subordinate clause. Some complex sentences:

  • If he was so funny, the whole crowd would have been laughing.

  • I went to dinner because I was hungry.

  • She turned her down because she was in love with someone else.

Compound-Complex Sentences

True to their name, compound-complex sentences combine the ideas behind both compound and complex sentences: they contain at least two independent clauses and a dependent clause. 

Because they can be pretty hard to parse, I’ve color coded the independent clauses, the coordinating conjunction/semicolon, and the dependent clauses. Let’s take a look:

  • Because he was injured, the team played with a short bench and their rivals beat them soundly.

  • I wondered what became of him; if he liked Chicago so much, it made no sense for him to up and leave.

  • The teacher gave Jimmy a time-out because of his bad behaviour and we all laughed at him, revelling in the chaos he had wrought.

A helpful guide to sentence structure

Sentence Structure Definition

Why Sentence Structure?

You might be thinking that sentence structure is one of those things that you use but don’t need to understand. We all write different sentence structures even though we might not necessarily be cognizant of it.

But paying attention to sentence structure is a great way to look at the rhythm of your writing more carefully. Have you written three complex sentences in a row? Or maybe you’ve been leaning heavily on simple sentences? Too much of one type of sentence structure can lead to your writing feeling repetitive or dull. Or, on the other hand, if you want to create a purposeful repetition in your rhetoric, reusing structures can help with that.

By being aware of sentence structure you can become a more thoughtful and varied writer. Who doesn’t want that?


What are Literary Devices?

Now that you’ve nailed down your sentence structures, it’s time to up your writing game with some tried and true techniques used by everyone from Aristotle to Aaron Sorkin. Dive into our comprehensive guide to literary devices.

Up Next: Literary Devices →
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  • Rex Provost is an award-winning writer/director based in New York. When he’s not making movies he’s writing about them.

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