Complicated Sentences

They're Long, They're Boring...and You Already Use Them

Academic Writing Often Uses Complex Sentences

By reputation, academic journal articles are difficult to read. They tend to use longer sentences packed with long words — sometimes, trying to understand the sentences feels like untying a tangled shoelace that's been left to rot in the rain. If you've read the book Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, you know exactly what I mean.

For college courses, you're required to write papers that will use complex sentences. When mixing together outside research, conflicting opinions, and personal experience, you need sentences that use multiple clauses. Sometimes, you may even need to use multiple subjects and verb tenses within the same sentence.

The Four Sentence Types

In writing, you should use a variety of the following sentence types:

  • Simple Sentence: An independent clause all by itself.
  • Compound Sentence: Two (or more) independent clauses.
  • Complex Sentence: An independent clause with one or more dependent clauses.
  • Compound-Complex Sentence: Two (or more) independent clauses with one or more dependent clauses.

by English Lessons with Adam. This also gives excellent review of independent and dependent clauses.

You Already Use Complicated Sentences

In general, most of us already use complex sentences in everyday speech. For example:

  • I couldn't make it cuz my car broke down right on the side of the highway, and then it took three hours for the tow truck to show up.
  • I was gonna grab some lunch, but then Joe called me, and you know how is when he starts babbling on and on about his fish, so that's why I'm so hungry.

Grammar Girl illustrates how to write Writing Complex Compound Sentence by Grammar Girl. Learn to use a variety of clauses.

Clauses Are the Key to Revising Complex Sentences

In academic writing, however, the sentences are often more complicated. Because they're written, you're also expected to revise and refine them until they're "better" than what you'd say to a friend:

  • I missed my doctor's appointment because the radiator on my car blew out, and then the tow truck driver spent three hours driving down the wrong highway while searching for my car.
  • I was planning on eating lunch, but then Joe called me to share yet another useless fact about his stupid goldfish, and now I feel famished.

Quick Tips on Complex Sentences

  • Shorter is often better. If you have trouble understanding your sentence, break it into smaller ones.
  • Beware of Incomplete Sentences. A dependent clause by itself is not a sentence. Be sure to connect it to an independent clause.
  • Hedging and Signposting often require complex sentences.

Revising the Complicated Sentence

When you break down a complex sentence, you first examine how the clauses function. Specifically, we have independent and dependent clauses:

  • The independent clauses are the core of your sentences. They say what happened, and they can stand alone if needed.
  • The dependent clauses modify parts of your independent clauses. They can function as adverbs, adjectives, or nouns. They always have verbs, but they can't replace the verbs in an independent clause.
  • A sentence phrase also modifies part of your sentence, but it has no verb.

Outside Resources for Revision

Video: Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentences from Learn English Lab. This video delves into the use of commas and conjunctions to illustrate how complex sentences function.