What is a complex sentence?

Complex sentences will help make your writing pop and give more information about the point you’re making!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
November 27, 2023

What is a complex sentence?

Complex sentences will help make your writing pop and give more information about the point you’re making!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
Nov 27, 2023

What is a complex sentence?

Complex sentences will help make your writing pop and give more information about the point you’re making!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
Nov 27, 2023

Key takeaways

  • Complex sentences help us give our writing more importance.
  • Using complex sentences allows us to show the reader our main point alongside supporting information, depending on how we choose to write them.

What is a complex sentence?

A complex sentence is the opposite of a simple sentence – a sentence that’s made up of one independent clause. An independent clause is a sentence that contains a subject and a verb, and makes sense on its own – for example, ‘Zack went to the cinema’.

A complex sentence builds on a simple sentence by adding more information. It does this by using what we call dependent clauses – or groups of words that don’t make sense on their own.

Let’s take a look at what this means in action:

In a simple sentence, what matters is that we use a subject – I, We, He, She, They, It. Here’s an example:

‘I cuddled my dog.’

In a complex sentence, we add a subordinating conjunction – once, while, when, whenever, where, until, wherever, before, after, because… Adding one of these words transforms our simple sentence into a complex sentence!

‘I cuddled my dog, although he was smelly.’

See how it makes the sentence so much more interesting?

The subject is not just cuddling their dog, but they’re doing it even though their dog is smelly!

There are lots of subordinating conjunctions: just remember that they always come at the start of a dependent clause. This will help you to spot them!

Complex sentence definition

A complex sentence is when you have one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

Complex sentences may also be called multi-clause sentences.

Remember: If your sentence has two or more independent clauses and two or more dependent clauses, it becomes a complex compound sentence. We’ll look into this another time!

Complex sentence examples

Let’s look at some more examples of complex sentences.

As you take a look…

  • Can you spot the subject of each sentence?
  • Can you spot the subordinating conjunction in each sentence? Check the top of this page if you need help with this.

‘She ate her apple quickly because it tasted sour.’

‘We went to school when it snowed heavily.’

‘They ran all the way to the shop before it closed.’

‘I ate my pizza quickly because it was my sister’s favourite.’

‘I cuddled my dog because he was smelly after he took a mud bath.’

‘She ate her apple quickly because it tasted sour after drinking milk.’

‘We sang in our classroom until the bell rang because it sounded so beautiful.’

Remember: we can add as many dependent clauses as we want. This gives our sentence even more information to help explain our point!

We can also mix up the dependent clauses, putting them before or after the independent clause. This can help our sentence to make a point.

You can also place commas at the end of your sentences if you think someone reading it might need to take a breath. If in doubt, read it out loud! Here are some examples:

‘Because it sounded so beautiful, we sang in our classroom until the bell rang.’

‘Because it tasted sour after drinking milk, she ate her apple quickly.’

‘After he took a mud bath I cuddled my dog, because he was smelly.’

‘When he saw it was raining, he gave his friend his coat although he was already wet because they had a long walk home.’

Explore complex sentences with DoodleEnglish

DoodleEnglish is an app that’s filled with thousands of fun, interactive exercises covering grammar, punctuation, spelling and more!

Designed by teachers, it creates each child a unique work programme tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence and skills in English. Try if for free today!

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The differences between simple, compound and complex sentences

There are some simple ways to tell the difference between simple, compound and complex sentences.

Simple sentences

Simple sentences use…

  • A subject: a person or thing performing an action. Examples: I, We, He, She, They It 

and

  • A verb or verbal phrase (aka predicate) that describes the action.


A simple sentence uses one independent clause.
Here’s an example of a simple sentence:

‘I made a delicious drink.’

Compound sentences

A compound sentence uses two (or more) independent clauses.

Simply put, it’s two or more simple sentences joined together.

‘I made a delicious drink, and I drank it in the sunshine.’

Complex sentences

A complex sentence uses one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

‘I made a delicious drink after my walk because I was so thirsty.’

‘I drank it in the sunshine before I met my friends while my brother played in the garden.’

See how these two complex sentences help create a whole scene and make a point about what’s happening.

How to write a complex sentence

When writing a complex sentence, you need:

  1.  One independent clause (this starts with the subject)
  2. One or more dependent clauses (this starts with a subordinating conjunction)


‘Before the film started, I made sure I got a great seat because it starred my favourite actor.’

We walked our cat on her lead although it took a lot of training when she was a kitten.’

Once we had practised a little, I could write using complex sentences whenever I wanted!’

Can you try and make some complex sentences of your own?

Remember: you can mix them up and add as many dependent clauses as you want!

Also consider your complex sentence meaning; how does it build off your simple sentence?

Try to see if you can and make a sentence with three dependent clauses.

Summary

Great work, that’s a wrap for today! 

Now that you can write using complex sentences, think of all the amazing stories you can create. 

Once you’ve practised how to write using complex sentences, it’ll start to feel natural, and your writing will be super wonderful!

If you’d like to learn more about complex sentences, be sure to check out our English app. It’ll consolidate your knowledge and give you the skills you need to be successful!

Try DoodleEnglish for free!

Lesson credits

Jessica Milner

Jessica Milner

This decade is a super exciting one for EdTech, and I'm lucky enough to be right in the middle of it. I've used green screens as an English teacher in Vietnam, written children’s books that wow and motivate, been the head scriptwriter for a popular children's EdTech app and been an all-dancing-all-singing online teacher! I believe in making education inviting and accessible to all. My ethos is: we're all different and we all learn differently, so why not lay out a smorgasbord of educational treats and dig in!

Jessica Milner

Jessica Milner

This decade is a super exciting one for EdTech, and I'm lucky enough to be right in the middle of it. I've used green screens as an English teacher in Vietnam, written children’s books that wow and motivate, been the head scriptwriter for a popular children's EdTech app and been an all-dancing-all-singing online teacher! I believe in making education inviting and accessible to all. My ethos is: we're all different and we all learn differently, so why not lay out a smorgasbord of educational treats and dig in!

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