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Sentence structure

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Tutor: Jonathan


Sentence structure

In a nutshell

A sentence is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb and expresses one thought. Words are the basic building blocks of a sentence. Words can form phrases and clauses. A combination of words, phrases and clauses can form three types of sentences, namely: simplecompound and complex sentences.


Words are the basic building blocks of a sentence. Words by themselves can’t express a thought, but in combination, they can form thoughts and ideas.




A phrase is a group of two or more words that provides a piece of meaningful information. Phrases don’t contain a subject and a verb. There are different kinds of phrases, but that’s for another time.


the long and winding road
a story as old as time
a cool, wet afternoon


A clause, on the other hand, is a group of words that includes a verb but might still not form a complete thought (as a sentence does).


drove down the long and winding road
was a story as old as time
was a cool, wet afternoon


A sentence, compared to a clause, includes at least one subject and verb to form a complete thought. Sentences with one subject and one verb are also main clauses.





down the long and winding road.
a story as old as time.
a cool, wet afternoon.

Sentence structures

There are three types of sentence structures you need to learn: simple, compound and complex sentences.

Simple sentences

A simple sentence is just a normal sentence. In other words, it is a main clause that contains a subject and a verb, just as in the examples above.

Compound sentences

A compound sentence is just two simple sentences (i.e. two main clauses) compounded (combined) using coordinating conjunctions (remember these?). The easiest way to remember the coordinating conjunctions is by memorising the mnemonic device, FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So).


I like coffee, and Kat likes tea.

Holly didn't eat her biscuits, nor did she drink her tea.

Complex sentences

A complex sentence is slightly different because it contains a subordinate clause. Subordinate clauses only provide sentences with extra detail; they cannot function as complete sentences by themselves.


Wherever you go, you can always find beauty.

A complex sentence consists of a main clause and a subordinate clause and is usually separated by commas:

main clause

subordinate clause

I was snappy with him
because I was late for work.

subordinate clause

main clause

Although he was wealthy,
he was still unhappy.

main clause

subordinate clause

main clause

The guy,
who brought a birthday cake,
is my best friend.


Note: The subordinate clause is usually separated by comma(s) unless the subordinate clause comes after the main clause.

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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What is a complex sentence?

What is a compound sentence?

What is the difference between a clause and a sentence?


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