Once you have worked with phrases and clauses, you understand what sentences are built out of. Sentences are named based on how many dependent and independent clauses they contain. When you understand how this works, you will find you have much greater variety and sentence fluency in your writing. Remember also that you will learn a lot of punctuation rules along the way. This lesson will introduce you to two types of sentences. You will want to master them before moving on to the next lesson. You should have demonstrated an understanding of basic parts of speech and phrases and clauses before completing this lesson.

To make things a little more convenient we will use the following abbreviations for this lesson:

P: Phrase
IC: Independent Clause
DC: Dependent Clause
S: Simple
C: Compound

Simple Sentence:

Let’s start with a definition first.

A simple sentence consists of ONE independent clause (IC) and NO dependent clauses (DCs). It can have one or more phrases, but having one phrase or 20 phrases will not change the sentence from being categorized as a simple sentence. Also, it can have more than one subject or more than one verb as long as they are not arranged in a way to make more than one IC.


Ø My back aches. (1 subject, 1 verb)
Ø My teeth and my eyes hurt. (2 subjects, ‘teeth and eyes’, 1 verb ‘hurt’)
Ø I must go over the hill. (1 subject ‘I’, one verb, ‘go’, one prepositional phrase ‘over the hill’)
Ø I must go over the hill, through the woods, down the street, around the corner, and up the stairs. . (1 subject ‘I’, one verb, ‘go’, 5 prepositional phrase ‘over the hill’ ‘through the woods’, ‘down the street’, ‘around the corner’, and ‘up the stairs’)

All of these are examples of simple sentences because they only have one independent clause each.

Compound Sentence: A compound sentence consists of two independent clauses (IC+IC). These clauses must be joined by a comma with a coordinating conjunction, or by a semi-colon.


Ø Sam plays soccer, and he also plays tennis.

‘Sam plays soccer’ is an independent clause because it has a subject, a verb that matches it, and expresses a complete idea. ‘He also plays tennis’ is also an independent clause

Ø The young man sits quietly, and he wants to be alone.
Ø She weeds in the garden, and her cat watches her.
Ø The whale swims, and the dolphin follows it.

Notice how in each of these examples, the two independent clause are joined together by the word and, which can be a coordinating conjunction. You will want to get used to other words that can joing two independent clauses together:

Some Common Coordinating Conjunctions
***and, but, for, or, nor, yet***

*****Punctuation Note*****

When a coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses, you must put a comma before the conjunction.

Ø June is a wonderful month, and we also get out of school.

Because "we get out of school" is a complete sentence coming after the "and", you need to put a comma before the "and".

However, if there’s not a complete IC on the right side of the ‘and’, you do not use a comma there.

Ø Mary is nice and smart. (“and” joins two adjectives so there’s no comma before the ‘and’)

Ø Tom went to the store and bought a cola. (bought a cola is not an IC because there’s no subject, so there’s no comma before the ‘and’.)

You can also join to ICs together by using a semicolon instead of a conjunction:

Ø Tigers have stripes; they also have long teeth.

This is the only time that you should really find yourself using a semicolon.

The Dreaded Comma Splice!

If you try to join to IC’s without using a conjunction or a semicolon, you have created a COMMA SPLICE! These should not occur in formal writing.

Therefore, you should never see a sentence punctuated like this:

Mary walks every night, she likes it a lot.

The comma is trying to joing the IC "Mary walks every night" with the IC "she likes it a lot." However, the comma is not a strong enough punctuation mark to do this.

Correctly Punctuated Options:

Mary walks every night, and she like it a lot.

Mary walks every night; she like it a lot.


If you are finding it difficult, remember that you will need to use everything you have learned so far to make this work. In other words, to figure out what type of sentence you have, you will have to figure out how many ICs and DCs it has, and to do that, you will have to find subjects and verbs. Labeling these on your paper as you are working with a sentence might make this easier.

To achieve mastery of this lesson, you should be able to:

Ø Explain the definitions of simple and compound sentences
Ø Identify simple and compound sentences
Ø Correctly punctuate compound sentences
Ø Identify and avoid comma splices

© kmcelliott 2008
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