Complex sentences sound, well, complex. (It’s right there in the name.) But they’re not extra complicated or hard to understand — they’re just one of the four ways you can structure your sentence. But before you get overwhelmed by the complex name, keep in mind that complex sentences are so common that you probably use them every time you write.
In a complex sentence, at least one dependent clause (an incomplete thought) connects to an independent clause (a complete thought) with a subordinating conjunction, such as because, if, while, since, or although.
Katie sipped her cappuccino
while the children played
Katie sipped her cappuccino while the children played.
I was snippy with Roger
because I was running late for work
I was snippy with Roger because I was running late for work.
The order of the clauses doesn’t matter when writing complex sentences. You can shift them around as long as they still make sense.
- While the children played, Katie sipped her cappuccino.
- Because I was running late for work, I was snippy with Roger.
Aside from adding detail to conversations, complex sentences keep you from sounding robotic and terse. They can bring sentence variety to make your writing more engaging.
When you start a complex sentence with the independent clause, you usually don’t need a comma between it and the dependent clause that comes later. (The exception is when you use the conjunctions even though, even if, or although, which sometimes have commas before them.)
- She returned the computer after she noticed it was damaged.
- Evergreen trees are a symbol of fertility because they do not die in the winter.
- You should take your car in for a service because it's starting to make weird noises.
- I have to save this coupon in case I come back to the store tomorrow.
- Let’s go to Chez Nous since it's where we had our first date.
- We’ll help you move if you buy us lunch.
- You can play the piano while I read.
- The jury won’t hear any testimonies until the attorneys finish their opening statements.
- Kara graduated college before I met her.
- I greeted my aunt as I passed through the kitchen.
- Barry can’t come to the party unless he apologizes to my roommate.
- My family loves playing board games, even though none of us like losing.
- I’d love to visit Paris one day, although I get nervous about flying.
You can begin a complex sentence with the dependent clause. Most times, you’ll need to add a comma before you start the independent clause.
- As we were short on time, I forgot to pack my toothbrush for our vacation.
- Wherever you go, you can always find beauty.
- Although it was very long, the movie was still enjoyable.
- After the tornado hit, there was very little left standing.
- The museum was very interesting, as I expected.
- Now that he's rich and famous, people make allowances for his idiosyncrasies.
- Even though he's thoroughly trained, he still makes a lot of mistakes.
- When she was younger, she believed in fairy tales.
- As genes change over time, evolution progresses.
- When he got a cream pie smashed in his face, everyone laughed.
- After being apart for years, he still had feelings for her.
- Since you failed math, you’ll need to repeat it in summer school.
Complex sentences always have one independent clause, but they can have more than one dependent clause if necessary (or desired).
- Although he was wealthy, he was still unhappy because he was alone.
- Since winter is coming, I think I'll knit a warm sweater because I'm always cold.
- Even though my friends begged me, I chose not to go to the reunion because I didn’t want to see Frank.
- As she was bright and ambitious, she became a manager in no time when her boss noticed her hard work.
- Whenever prices go up, customers buy fewer products while banks offer fewer loans.
- Though my brothers mean well, they always hurt my feelings because they love playing nasty pranks.
Literature is full of unique complex sentence examples. If you opened any book to any page, chances are pretty good that you’d see a complex sentence.
- “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” - Walden, Henry David Thoreau
- “The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman stood up in a corner and kept quiet all night, although of course they could not sleep.” - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
- “Because he was so small, Stuart was often hard to find around the house.” - Stuart Little, E. B. White
- “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” - One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- “As Grainier drove along in the wagon behind a wide, slow, sand-colored mare, clusters of orange butterflies exploded off the blackish purple piles of bear sign and winked and fluttered magically like leaves without trees.” - Train Dreams, Denis Johnson
Complex sentences allow you to add some variety and detail to your writing. But don’t forget about compound sentences (independent clause + independent clause) or compound-complex sentences (independent clause + independent clause + dependent clause)! Using every type of sentence structure can make your writing stand out and flow.