Complex Sentences

The simple sentence, Marry, the girl with curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field, gives the reader of this sentence vivid details about Marry but it still leaves the reader with an incomplete picture of the scene, and the reader is left to fill in all the missing information from his or her own imagination. For the purposes of clear writing, we want to maximize the amount of information that we give the reader while minimizing the room for the reader’s imagination to hijack the meaning of the sentence. It would be easy to add more information by adding sentences before and/or after the sentence about Marry. If we write, Billy swung hard driving the ball toward the fence. Marry, the girl with curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field, the reader comes out with the image of Marry as an inattentive baseball player. If we write, The teacher asked Marry to work out the math problem for the entire class. Marry, the girl with curly blond hair, fiddled with dust in her pocket from deep out in left field. The reader comes out with the image of Marry as a confused math student. In both instances we end up with clear two sentence vignettes with drastically different meanings. However, for the purposes of this exercise, we want to explore ways to clarify this sentence by changing it from a simple sentence to a complex or compound sentence.

 

Here we will explore complex sentences. A complex sentence is a sentence that contains a dependent clause and an independent clause. An independent clause is a clause that can stand alone as a simple sentence. An independent clause has a subject, a verb, and a predicate. For example, the sentence, Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field, is an independent clause. Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, is the subject. Fiddled is the verb. With the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field is the predicate. Other examples of independent clauses are: The teacher asked Marry to work out the math problem for the entire class, and Billy swung hard driving the ball toward the fence. A dependent clause is simply an independent clause that is preceded by a qualifying word or phrase. Examples of qualifying words or phrases are before, after, when, right about the time that, etc.….

 

If we add these qualifying words or phrases to our example sentences from above, we come up with these dependent clauses:

After the teacher asked Marry to work out the math problem for the entire class

Right about the time that Billy swung hard driving the ball toward the fence

The resulting dependent clauses now sound like they are missing something. When a qualifying word or phrase is added to an independent clause, the resulting clause becomes a sentence fragment and can no longer stand alone. The resulting dependent clause must be attached to a standalone sentence either at the beginning or the end of an independent clause. When the dependent clause comes before the independent clause, the clauses must be attached with a comma. Here are our two possible examples:

After the teacher asked Marry to work out the math problem for the entire class, Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field. And Right about the time that Billy swung hard driving the ball toward the fence, Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field.

When the dependent clause comes after the independent clause, the clauses are put together without a comma. Here are our two possible examples:

Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field after the teacher asked Marry to work out the math problem for the entire class. And Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field right about the time that Billy swung hard driving the ball toward the fence.

Now that we have seen how we can use complex sentences to lead the reader to clearly understand our intended meaning of the sentence, Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field, we can go on to explore ways this can be done using compound sentences.

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