on Connie Gulick.com


Complex sentences are two sentences combined by a subordinating conjunction.

Take a regular old sentence, something like I was hungry.  It's complete as a sentence because it has the subject and verb.  Now add a word to it:

Because I was hungry.

Imagine if I were to come up to you and say, "Because I was hungry."  What would you do?  Wouldn't you be waiting for the rest of it?  You would be prompting me with, " . . .and . . ." so I would finish my sentence.




Adding the word "because" suddenly makes a perfectly fine sentence not enough.  That's because it's a subordinating conjunction.  Such words are like leeches.  They attach to the sentence after them and suck all the blood out so that what used to be a sentence becomes crud.


ballet shoes

Another way to look at it is "because" tells us there's a pair.  Unless you have only one foot, you probably wouldn't buy only one shoe.  The sentences connected by a subordinating conjunction come in pairs, just like shoes.  A sentence like "If you are ready" may leave you waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Know that story?

A young man lived in a boarding house, and every night when he went to bed, he'd take off his shoes and drop them on the floor.  And sometimes he'd take one shoe off, drop it, then get lost in thought for awhile before taking his other shoe off and dropping it.  That caused a problem with his neighbors below.  They'd just get to sleep when the dropping of his second shoe would awaken them.  They finally complained about it. 

The young man apologized and said he'd do better that night.  Sure enough, he dropped his first shoe, but then remembered his neighbors below, and he softly put his second shoe on the floor.  After about ten minutes, he heard the yell, "Drop the other damn shoe!"

When you use a subordinating conjunction, you gotta drop both shoes!

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Work boots
  Here are some examples of complex sentences.
  • I'Kissve got to go talk to my counselor when IKissget out of class.
  • IKisslooked at my email as the studentsKissworked on their papers.
  • HenryKissturned in the application after heKissfinished filling it out.
  • IKisscan pay off my car since weKissreceived a bonus in our paycheck.
  • SheKisswaited until the restaurantKissclosed.

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Subord + SV = C






Complex Sentence
Subord SV, SV.
SV subord SV.

Now since a sentence connected to a subordinating conjunction (the conjunction comes first) becomes crud, you can punctuate the sentence as if it were a simple sentence with crud. 


C, SV.

SV subordSV.

SubordSV, SV.

If the crud is last, you don't add any punctuation to the sentence.  This is the same as saying if the subordinating conjunction is in the middle between the two sentence, then you don't add punctuation.

On the other hand, if you start with the subordinating conjunction, basically, you're starting with crud, and when crud comes first, you need a comma to separate it from the subject.



So here's a suggestion.  If you have trouble with fragments, sometimes they are caused by subordinating conjunctions.  A teacher in your past may have even told you something like don't start a sentence with "because."  In reality, starting a sentence with "because" is fine -- if you bring along the other shoe.
  • Because I was hungry, I ate the cake.

Watch out for subordinating conjunctions starting sentences.  If they do, expect to find a comma a little later and whole 'nother sentence.  Some grammar books call them "danger words" because people tend to forget the rest of the sentence.

The examples above can all start like this:

  • When I get out of class, I've got to go talk to my counselor .
  • As the students worked on their papers, I looked at my email.
  • After Henry finished filling the application out, he turned it in.
  • Since we received a bonus in our paycheck, I can pay off my car.
  • Until the restaurant closed, she waited

The point is, having a subordinating conjunction at the beginning of the sentence is a good clue that you're going to need a comma a little farther down and another whole sentence.  Actually, even when these words are not used to combine two sentences, the punctuation is the same.  Note these SIMPLE sentences:

  • After ten o'clock, wewent home.
  • Wewent home after ten o'clock.
  • Until closing, the restaurantwas full.
  • The restaurantwas full until closing.
  • Because of my knee, I can't run very fast. 
  • I can't run very fast because of my knee.
  • Before the sun rose, my husband was at work. 
  • My husband was at work before the sun rose.

How can you tell they are simple sentences, not complex ones?  Well, there is only one SV kiss.  (Oh, that again.)  Check it out.  I did the first two for you.

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  This page was last updated Friday, August 26, 2011, by Connie Gulick.   web counter
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