Rhetoric and Composition/Types of Sentences

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There are several different types of sentences. Each are classified based on their structure and their purpose.

Sentence Structure[edit]

Using a variety of sentences helps the reader follow the flow of a writer’s thoughts. Choosing between simple, compound, and complex sentences and mixing them up throughout the material will keep the reader interested. Varying the length of the sentences also keeps the reader involved.

Reading material that marches along becomes tedious. For example:

The band marched along the street, and the director signaled for the drums to play. A red car stopped at the intersection, and the parents walked beside the band. The parents squirted water into the musicians’ mouths, and the trumpet players started to play. The band marched past the intersection, and the red car proceeded down the street.

Reading this group of compound sentences becomes boring. If the writer mixes up the types of sentences like the example below, the sentences will flow more easily for the reader.

As the band marched along the street, the director signaled for the drums to play. A red car stopped at the intersection. While the parents walked beside the band, they squirted water into the trumpet players’ mouths. The trumpet players started to play. The band marched past the intersection, and the red car proceeded down the street.

The first sentence is complex, and the second one is simple. The third is again complex while the fourth is simple. The fifth sentence is compound. The choppiness is gone, and a flow is created.

Sentence structure is determined based on the number of clauses in the sentence. A clause can be independent or subordinate.

Independent clause[edit]

  • Full sentence pattern that can operate on its own and does not function within another sentence pattern.
  • Contains a subject plus a verb and any objects, any modifiers.
  • It either stands alone or could stand alone.

--Example: May studied in the library for her final exam.

Subordinate clause[edit]

  • Pattern like a full sentence (has subjects and verbs) but functions within a sentence.
  • Can function as a noun, adjective or adverb.
  • Can not stand alone as a complete sentence.
  • Sometimes called a dependent clause.

--Example: After May studied in the library for her final exam, she went home.

Complement Clause[edit]

  • Ordinary --- If you examine the structure of the entire sentence, you will see that this complement clause is taking the place of a direct object. This is common for ordinary complement clauses. Certain verbs, which your text goes into in detail, allow this.

-- Example: I know [that James went to Yale].

  • Noun --- In a noun complement clause construction, the complement clause occurs after a noun. The number of nouns that can be used in this construction is limited. Some examples are 'the fact', 'the rumor', 'the suggestion', 'the idea', etc.

-- Example: I love the idea [that chimps can talk].

  • Adjective --- In an adjective complement clause construction the clause occurs after an adjective.

-- Example: I am pleased [that George went to the party].

The Relative Clause[edit]

A relative clause--also called an adjective or adjectival clause--will meet three requirements. First, it will contain a subject and verb. Next, it will begin with a relative pronoun [who, whom, whose, that, or which] or a relative adverb [when, where, or why]. Finally, it will function as an adjective, answering the questions What kind? How many? or Which one? The relative clause will follow one of these two patterns:

Relative Pronoun [or Relative Adverb]  +  Subject  +  Verb  =   Incomplete Thought  
Relative Pronoun [Functioning as Subject]  +  Verb  =  Incomplete Thought

Examples[edit]

Simple sentence
One independent clause with no subordinate clauses. It does not contain more than one full sentence pattern.
Without love, life would be empty.
This sentence contains a subject (life), a verb (would be) and 2 types of modifiers (Without love and empty).
Compound sentence
Composed of two or more independent clauses with no subordinate clauses. The two clauses are usually joined by a comma and a conjunction or a semicolon.
Together we stand, but united we fall.
This sentence contains 2 clauses which are joined by "but".
Complex sentence
Composed of one independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses.
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
"that sow in tears" is the subordinate clause.
Compound-complex sentence
Contains at least two independent clauses and at least one subordinate clause.
Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.
This sentence contains two independent clauses (one before and one after the comma) and each independent clause contains a subordinate clause ("what you eat" and "what you are").

Sentence Purpose[edit]

  • Declarative sentence - used to make a statement
    My dog barks at everything.
  • Imperative sentence - used to make a request or demand
    Give me that.
  • Interrogative sentence - used to ask a question
    What are you doing?
  • Exclamatory sentence - used to make an exclamation
    I don't want that!