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Get Your Grammar Fix(ed): Compounds Are Not That Complex

Well, hello there!

Today, we're breaking down the difference between a compound sentence and a complex sentence

I thought we would get to solve the great "Do I Need a Comma Here?" riddle, but I made you a promise. A minute or less. I'm a girl who keeps her word.

Plus, I may have grammar skilz, but I'm no genie.

We'll take a look at the possibilities and necessities of commas in each of these two sentence types over the next two weeks.

Today, let's start simply. 

What defines a sentence? Every sentence must have a subject (who or what the sentence is about), a predicate (a verb--what the subject is or does), a capital letter, and an endmark (? ! .).

It's also got to make sense. 

Sentence fragments. They're all the rage in fiction right now, but they can easily be overdone. Be careful.

Now, you need to understand clauses. A clause also has a subject and a verb, but the rest of the sentence qualifiers are negotiable. A clause may or may not be able to function by itself.

An independent clause could stand on its own if it wanted. These guys are confident.  

Their weaker friends, the subordinate clauses, lack the wherewithal to be their own man. They're not trend setters. They're trend followers

I love grammar, which is weird of me.

Where's the independent clause? Here: I love grammar...

And which clause is too weak to stand on its own? This guy: ...which is weird of me.

So, is that a compound sentence? 

No. It's a complex sentence. 

Here's an easy way to remember which is which:

In the same way that a compound word mashes two independent words together, (doghouse, thunderstorm, cross-cultural), a compound sentence unites two independent clauses. You can connect these guys with a semicolon or with a coordinating conjunction. I've got to offer a shout out to Classical Conversations (Yeah, I'm a homeschool ninja) for this little nugget: 

Coordinating conjunctions spell FANBOYS--For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. 

I enjoy editing thoroughly, but writing is my favorite.

The coordinating conjunction is not included in either clause; it shows the relationship between the two independent clauses. Either could be its own sentence. 

I enjoy editing thoroughly. Writing is my favorite. 

The "but" simply shows that I'm contrasting the two ideas.

And the complex sentences? Are they all that complex? I don't think so. They're a mix of an independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses.

There's a list of subordinating conjunctions, too. Unlike the FANBOYS, these guys are clingy. They latch onto the subordinate clause and don't let go. Their codependency is probably the reason neither of them can thrive on their own. It's sad, really.

Here's the list: When, While, Where, As, Since, If, Although, Whereas, Unless, Because

My kids can rattle those off, thanks to this mnemonic device. 
It looks like a URL. Again, fist bump to CC and their wily ways.

Editing makes me happy, because I get to help other writers realize their potential.

What's the independent clause? Editing makes me happy. Solid. Confident. 

Where are our high-maintenance friends? Here: because I get to help other writers realize their potential.

There are still two relative pronouns which can also be used to build a complex sentence: who and which. When they're used in a subordinate clause, they actually function as the subject. 

Erynn and I are sisters who share an editing blog. 

All right. Use this stuff in your writing! When you have a paragraph in which every sentence seems to start with She, combine some. Mix it up. Practice, and hone your own editing skilz. 

Revision can actually be a beautiful process.

If you feel so inclined, give me an example of each type of sentence in the comments--one compound, one complex. 

Be creative.

And thanks for swinging by!


Thanks to Rictor Norton and David Allen  for the image.



    1. Full credit on those gems goes to Classical Conversations and the Institute for Excellence in Writing--they're what I use to teach the clan. But I agree. I love them.


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