Complex Sentences – Definition and Examples

Sentence structure is important in communication. While English may be difficult to learn, the ability to communicate effectively with proper sentence structures is a process that native speakers are bound to master with time and experience. Being proficient in the language gives an impression of having a higher intellectual capacity, which is why it is an important subject to learn. While there are many types of sentence structures in the English language, we will tackle in this article the purpose and proper usage of complex sentences in grammar. You may also see simple sentence examples.

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Defining Complex Sentences

A complex sentence is a type of sentence structure that combines an independent clause with at least one dependent or subordinate clause. The clause must consist of both a subject and a verb. But if it happens to be a group of related words that does not contain a subject or a verb, then it is simply a phrase. You may also see compound sentences.

For us to fully understand the role of clauses in constructing complex sentences, let us take a look at the examples given below:

Wrong – Because they knew the exam would be difficult.
Right – The whole class studied furiously because they knew the exam would be difficult.

The first line from the example is a subordinate clause because it fails to convey a complete thought. Instead, listeners or readers would be left asking, “what happened as a result?” To create a complex sentence from this clause, an independent clause is added to the dependent clause, as seen in the sentence that follows.You may also see parallel sentences.

Independent Clause

An independent clause is comparable to a complete sentence, where a complete thought is expressed in the given statement. And because it consists of a subject and a predicate as well, the clause has the ability to stand on its own. This may sound confusing to you because of how most sentence types possess the same characteristics, such as that of a simple sentence. Keep in mind that an independent clause turns into a short sentence if left as is, but once it is joined by another clause, then the clause will simply be classified as only a part of a sentence.


  • I was late for class today.
  • The instructor spent the whole period trying to explain the difference between equality and equity to his students.
  • He walked quickly.
  • Kendra ran.
  • Ellie reads.

Notice how in the last two examples given, the independent clause only consists of two words: the subject and the verb. While it may seem a bit awkward to read, the clause still conveys a complete thought, thus may still be considered as an independent clause. You may also see exclamatory sentences.

Subordinate Clause

A subordinate clause, otherwise known as a dependent clause, does not express a complete thought. To avoid creating a sentence fragment, the clause must be joined together with another clause. Although it may seem like a complete sentence due to its complex nature, if it cannot stand on its own, it will still be considered as a subordinate clause.

Listed below are some examples of marker words and subordinating conjunctions:

  • After
  • Before
  • So that
  • Whenever
  • Although
  • Even though
  • Though
  • Where
  • As
  • If
  • Unless
  • Whereas
  • As if
  • In order that
  • Until
  • Whether
  • Because
  • Since
  • When
  • while


  • Because I got home late…(what happened?)
  • When we arrived for practice…(what occurred?)
  • If my partner fails to do his part…(what will happen?)
  • After the sun sets…(what will you do?)
  • When the president comes…(what do you plan to do?)

Take note, even if an independent clause can stand alone does not mean that it has to. You can always join one or more independent clauses into a single sentence to form a compound sentence, or you may even add two independent clauses with at least one dependent clause to create a compound-complex sentence. This can be incredibly useful in writing, as it helps an author communicate clearly for readers to understand.

Other Types of Sentence Structures

As you may have learned from past lessons in your English class, there are four main types of sentence structures in the English language. Understanding the difference between complex sentences and the other types of sentence structures is vital in learning how to construct proper sentences in the said language. This will help promote clear communication when delivering a message to an audience. You may also see conditional sentences.

1. Simple sentences

A simple sentence is short and concise, consisting of a single independent clause. “I burned our meal for dinner,” is a good example of a simple sentence that may also be considered as an independent clause. You may also see preposition sentences.

2. Compound sentences

A compound sentence is typically comprised of two independent clauses joined together by a conjunction. Without the presence of a conjunction, the two independent clauses may form two different sentences. An example for this would be: “I burned our meal for dinner but I did not burn the cake.” You may also see periodic sentences.

3. Compound-complex sentences

 A compound-complex sentence contains two independent clauses and at least a single subordinate clause. For example: “I burned our meal for dinner while I was watching Black Mirror, but not the cake because I was quick to watch over the oven as soon as I smelled smoke.” You may also see topic sentences.

Examples of Complex Sentences

Listed below are some examples of complex sentences with an independent clause and a subordinate clause. In each example, we have italicized the independent clause to guide you.

  1. Though he had all the riches in the world, he was still unhappy.
  2. She returned the cellphone after she found out it was defective.
  3. The plot of the film was very interesting, as he had told us.
  4. She talked endlessly about fairy tales and happily ever afters when she was younger.
  5. Even after 10 years of being apart, he still has feelings for her.
  6. Stay under the bed until the police come.
  7. Leave while you still can.
  8. The human brain works endlessly until you’re made to speak in public.
  9. Love is all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
  10. When I got home, I cooked dinner and cleaned my room.
  11. I went to the gym before the sun set.
  12. Because she lied in her application, she didn’t get the job.
  13. Crashing her car was a terrible idea, but it was the only choice she had.
  14. I’m not a big fan of the movie, even though the actors were good.
  15. The concert was amazing, as I had expected.
  16. When he got spaghetti sauce spilled all over him, everyone laughed.
  17. After that violent storm, there was very little left in the town.
  18. Although my former teacher invited me, I chose not to go the class reunion.
  19. Mobile phones have gone a long way since they first came out in the market.
  20. When the pizza arrived, the guys ate everything in one sitting.
  21. The mayor appointed good people who would help him make good decisions.
  22. Although she had some doubts, she found the class very useful.
  23. She went to sleep after the show ended.
  24. Because my meal was too cold, I heated it in the stove.
  25. Wherever you go, you will always find happiness.
  26. I get really bad indigestion whenever I overeat.
  27. Because I was hungry, I ate seven slices of pizza.
  28. I washed and dried the dishes after I had breakfast.
  29. Whenever she sees the sunrise, Natalie wants to go to the beach.
  30. Jeremiah ate pancakes while he watched television.
  31. Jessie dumped all her belongings at my house last night, but didn’t pick it up.
  32. Even though he had a bad cold, he went to school to pass his project.
  33. Since it’s raining out, the P.E. teacher held classes indoors.
  34. Some students skipped studying because the weather was good for sleeping in.
  35. If Martin goes to the town fair, he will eat all the popcorn and cotton candy.

Complex Sentences in Literature

Apart from everyday speech, complex sentences also play a role in literature. Here are a few examples of well-crafted complex sentences in writing:

  1. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aurelian Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  2. “As Grainier drove along in the wagon behind a wide, slow, sand-colored mare, clusters of orange butterflies exploded off the purple blackish piles of bear sign and winked and winked and fluttered magically like leaves without trees.” – Train Dreams, Denis Johnson
  3. “The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman stood up in a corner and kept quiet all night, although of course they could not sleep.” – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

Almost all the sentences we use in everyday speech are complex sentences. This is because complex sentences are more in-depth compared to simple sentences, especially when it comes to describing our thoughts, feelings, and opinions on a given matter. It allows us to expound our emotions and thoroughly describe ideas in a way that others may easily understand. Always keep in mind that communication is the key to success in business and in life. With a bit of effort and practice, you can learn to communicate effectively with your audience in both speech and writing. You may also see imperative sentences.

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