What is a compound sentence? How does it differ from a complex sentence? And there are compound-complex sentences, too? Don’t worry, we’ll help you keep them all straight! Read this guide to learn what a compound sentence is, what the different types of compound sentences are, what compound sentence examples look like, and what other sentence types you should know.
What Is a Compound Sentence?
A compound sentence is a sentence with at least two independent clauses and no dependent clauses. What’s an independent clause? It’s a phrase that can stand alone as a sentence. “I slept late” is an independent clause. So are “The sun is shining” and “Ella got a new dog.” Each has a subject and a verb and makes sense on its own. Examples of dependent clauses, which can’t be complete sentences on their own include: “whenever I go to the lake,” “how she got lost,” and “what makes him happy.” They don’t make sense on their own.
A compound sentence must contain at least two independent clauses. Here’s an example: “I practiced piano every day, yet I never got very good at it.” The two independent clauses are “I practiced piano every day” and “I never got very good at it.” They are joined by a comma and the coordinating conjunction “yet.” Both clauses have a subject and verb and make sense on their own, and since there are no dependent clauses, we know this is a compound sentence.
If a sentence contains only one independent clause, then it is a simple sentence, not a compound sentence. A sentence with three or more independent clauses (and no dependent clauses) is still a compound sentence, but once you begin adding in dependent clauses, it becomes a compound-complex sentence, which we discuss later on. Here is what a compound sentence example looks like diagrammed.
The sentence is: I went running, but Emily stayed inside.
The two independent clauses are each on their own line, and they’re connected by the coordinating conjunction “but.”
Different Types of Compound Sentences
Independent clauses can be joined in several ways to form compound sentences:
Coordinating Conjunction and a Comma
The most common way independent clauses in a compound sentence are linked is with a coordinating conjunction and a comma. There are seven coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. (The acronym FANBOYS is often used to help remember them.) When you use one of these conjunctions to link the clauses, you must include a comma immediately before the conjunction.
Example: I ran the entire way there, but I still missed the bus.
Semicolons join two independent clauses without any joining words like conjunctions. Independent clauses separated by a semicolon could have been separated by a period and made into two separate sentences, but the author chose to keep the clauses linked in a single sentence.
Example: France is my favorite country to visit; I never run out of things to do there.
A colon is used to give more information about something mentioned in the preceding sentence. Be careful though; most of the phrases following a colon aren’t independent clauses, so it’s rare for a sentence with a colon to be a compound sentence.
Example: I learned my lesson: I can’t be trusted in Vegas.
Dashes can be used in place of colons or semicolons, and they’re used when the author wants to create a more abrupt stop or to emphasize the words after the dash. (Same with colons, be aware that most words that follow a dash aren’t an independent clause.)
Example: He wasn’t just late -- he didn’t show up at all.
What’s the Difference Between a Compound Sentence and a Complex Sentence?
As mentioned above, a compound sentence has at least two independent clauses. A complex sentence has one (and only one) independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
The sentence, “Ella got a new dog, and she’s going to bring it on Saturday” is a compound sentence because both “Ella got a new dog” and “she’s going to bring it on Saturday” are independent clauses. The sentence, “Before she went to the lake, Ella got a new dog,” is a complex sentence because “before she went to the lake” is a dependent clause, so that sentence only has one independent clause, not two.
Here are some examples of complex sentences. When the dependent clause occurs at the beginning of a sentence, it needs to be followed by a comma, but when the independent clause occurs at the beginning of a sentence, it isn’t followed by a comma.
“My brother was late because he forgot to feed the dog.”
- Even though “my brother was late” and “he forgot to feed the dog” are both independent clauses, this isn’t a compound sentence since “because,” the word that links them, isn’t a coordinating conjunction (it’s a subordinating conjunction). Therefore, “because” is included as part of the clause it’s in, and “because he forgot to feed the dog” is a dependent clause. Only coordinating conjunctions aren’t included in the clause they’re in when determining if a clause is independent or dependent.
“Whenever I hear his music, I start to cry.”
- “Whenever I hear his music” is the dependent clause
- "I start to cry" is the independent clause
“He has been very lonely since his best friend moved away.”
- “since his best friend moved away” is the dependent clause
- "He has been very lonely" is the independent clause
What Is a Compound-Complex Sentence?
What happens when a sentence contains more than two clauses? If it has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause, it becomes a compound-complex sentence. (You might notice the compound-complex sentence requirements are just the requirements of a compound sentence and a complex sentence combined together).
Here are some compound-complex sentence examples. Note that each has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.
“I laughed when he fell in the mud, but then I felt sorry for him.”
“Whenever we get coffee, she shows up late, and it’s really starting to bother me.”
“The restaurant is so expensive; I’ll have to save up money before we can go.”
Compound Sentence Quiz
Each of the sentences below is a compound, complex, compound-complex, or simple sentence. Look at each of them, guess which they are, then check the answers below.
#1: I rang your doorbell, but you didn’t answer.
#2: I wanted to go to Australia, but when I saw how expensive the plane tickets were, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford it.
#3: I go to the beach every Saturday afternoon.
#4: Whenever I go to the store, they are always out of oranges.
#5: When I forgot to complete my homework, Mrs. Valentine was really angry, and I thought I’d get a detention.
#6: Summer is my favorite season; I love evenings spent around a campfire.
#7: I promised I’d finish my chores by noon, so I can’t go to the movies with you.
#8: Do you think she’d agree to go to prom with me if I asked her on Facebook?
Answers: 1: compound, 2: compound-complex, 3: simple, 4: complex, 5: compound-complex, 6: compound, 7: compound, 8: complex
Summary: Compound Sentences
A compound sentence is a sentence with at least two independent clauses and no dependent clauses. Looking at compound sentence examples can help you understand them, and in addition to that, here are the requirements for each main sentence type:
Simple sentence: one independent clause
Compound sentence: at least two independent clauses, no dependent clauses
Complex sentence: Exactly one independent clause, and at least one dependent clause
Compound-complex sentence: At least two independent clauses, and at least one dependent clause
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.