Whether you’re building houses, cooking, or writing, having a clear structure will help you reach your goal. In language, sentences also have structures.
This comprehensive guide will show you the different types of sentence structure and examples. Learning the sentence structure examples will help you add sentence variety to your essays and other writing assignments.
Definitions and Examples of Basic Sentence Elements
Before mastering the different types of sentence structures, it’s essential to understand the various elements of the sentence. Mix and match these elements to form sentence variety and show the different structures.
Subject and Verb
All sentences should include a subject, which refers to the doer of the action or the one that expresses time or existence. It can be a noun or a personal pronoun, specifically a nominative pronoun. These pronouns include “I,” “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” “we,” and “you.”
Meanwhile, a verb expresses an action, condition, or the fact that anything exists. It can be an action word or a linking verb.
- We gave her food.
(“We” performs the action “gave.”)
- Jane left early.
(“Jane” performs the action “left.”)
Objects are any person, thing, concept, place, or animal that receives the action in the sentence. They can be a direct object, indirect object, or object of the preposition. They can be nouns or object pronouns like “me,” “him,” “her,” “it,” “them,” “us,” and “you.”
- We gave her food.
(In this sentence, there are two objects. “Her” is the indirect object, which receives the direct object “food.”)
- We stood on the rock.
(“Rock” is the object of the preposition “on.”)
Independent clauses are sentence elements that can stand as a complete sentence because of the complete thought. They include a subject and a verb in all types of writing. Some independent clauses have objects.
- We gave her food.
(The complete sentence is made of one independent clause, “We gave her food.”)
- She writes.
(“She writes” is an independent clause that contains the subject “she” and the verb “writes.”)
- We stood on the rock.
(“We stood on the rock” is an independent clause because it has a subject and verb. Independent clauses may also include prepositional phrases like “on the rock.”)
- Jane left early because she had a fever.
(“Jane left early” is an independent clause from the sentence. It can stand alone as a sentence.)
In the English language, dependent clauses cannot complete thought nor stand on their own as a sentence. Also known as a subordinate clause, it often starts with common subordinating conjunctions. Dependent clauses require independent clauses to be a complete sentence.
- Because she had a fever.
(“Because she had a fever” may be understandable, but it does not express a complete idea. It starts with the subordinating conjunction “because.”)
- When I was ten years old.
(This dependent clause cannot stand on its own as a sentence.)
Types of Sentence Structure
Now that you know the elements of a sentence, it’s time to study the basic types of sentences.
A simple sentence is a basic sentence construction with one independent clause. In English sentences, that means it has a simple subject and a verb. It can also have an object. There are four simple sentence types. Here are some simple sentence examples.
Single Subject + Single Verb
- The car stopped out front of the house.
- They ran away.
Single Subject + Compound Verbs
- I ate bacon and drank coffee this morning.
- The receptionist called and talked to my mother.
Compound Subjects + Single Verb
- Mom and dad went out.
- The hat and blazer look good together.
Compound Subjects + Compound Verbs
- Sarah and Matteo got married and went to Hawaii.
- Max and Cooper ran around the house and asked for a treat.
A compound sentence is one of the sentence types that comprise more than one independent clause through coordinating conjunction or semicolon. Coordinating conjunctions are phrases that have “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.”
Here are some compound sentence structure examples:
- Max ran around, and Cooper asked for a treat.
(Notice the difference between this sentence and the previous sentence.)
- She’s already taken so please admire her from afar.
(In the first independent clause, the subject is “she,” and the auxiliary verb is “is.” The subject of the second clause is “you” because it’s an imperative sentence. “Admire” is the verb in the second clause.”)
You should never join two independent clauses with a subordinating conjunction. That will make one clause a dependent clause.
Complex sentences are made of one independent clause and a dependent clause. This formation of sentences should not be confused with compound sentences, which do not contain a dependent clause.
This English sentence structure typically includes subordinating conjunction to separate the two clauses. They have “after,” “although,” “before,” “because,” “how,” “if,” “than,” “when,” etc.
- Although Harry was tired, he still attended the event.
(Independent clause: “He still attended the event.” Dependent clause: “Although Harry was tired.”)
- I purchased the old edition because it’s more affordable.
(Independent clause: “I purchased the old edition.” Dependent clause: “because it’s more affordable.”)
- Nathan can move out once he graduates.
(Independent clause: “Nathan can move out.” Dependent clause: “Once he graduates.”)
A compound-complex sentence is a single sentence that has at least one dependent clause and at least two independent clauses. Complex-compound sentences require a thorough knowledge of structural principles for the readability of the writer.
- Martha arrived early because she was excited, so the whole family was surprised.
- Jerry disappeared after we went downstairs for the lunch break, but he returned before the evening.
You can separate these clauses with a comma so that readers will understand your statement.
What are the Rules of Sentence Structure?
Here are a few sentence structure rules to consider to help you become a more versatile writer.
Every Sentence Has at Least One Independent Clause
No matter how many dependent clauses you have, they can never be a complete sentence without an independent clause.
- Because she wrote a list, although I told her not to
(These two dependent clauses do not form a complete thought. It’s a sentence fragment.)
Imperative Sentences Have “You” as an Invisible Subject
For example, “stop playing, or I will turn the music off” is a compound sentence. In the first independent clause, which shows a command, the subject is “you.”
Use Subordinating Conjunctions to Combine Independent and Dependent Clauses
An incomplete sentence may result if you join independent and dependent clauses without a conjunction.
- I like the cake. It’s not too sweet.
I like the cake because it’s not too sweet.
Use Comma or Coordinating Conjunctions to Join Independent Clauses
Otherwise, you might end up with run-on sentences. A run-on sentence has two independent clauses that are misconnected. It can be a comma splice error.
- Wrong: Participants should leave immediately, they don’t have to indicate their age.
Correct: Participants should leave immediately, and they don’t have to indicate their age.
Sentence Structure Exercises
Identify the type of sentence structure of each item.
- The woman on top of the hill screamed and cried for help.
- Although he’s a good husband, Bill wants to do better because he’s about to have a child, and Sam agrees.
- We’re so close yet so far.
- Time is running and James is still on the first page of the test.
- The dictator won because of poor voter education.
Summary of Sentence Structures
Understanding the different kinds of sentences based on structure will help you become a more varied writer. Remember that English has four types of sentence structures:
- Simple sentence: One independent clause.
- Compound sentence: More than one independent clause.
- Complex sentence: An independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
- Compound-Complex sentence: At least two independent clauses and one dependent clause.