What is a Complex Sentence? - Examples & Concept

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  • 0:00 Definition & Examples…
  • 1:14 Subordinating Conjunctions
  • 1:42 Using Subordinate…
  • 2:55 Using Complex…
  • 5:04 Problems With Writing…
  • 6:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
In this lesson, you will find out what a complex sentence is and how it's structured. You'll also learn about different sentence types and how dependent, or subordinate, clauses function in complex sentences.


A complex sentence is a sentence that combines one independent clause with at least one dependent clause. A clause is a group of words that has both a subject and a verb. An independent clause forms a complete thought. A dependent clause, also called a subordinating clause, does not form a complete thought and is dependent upon an independent clause for meaning.

Examples of Complex Sentences

Here are some examples of complex sentences:

Although Denise had some doubts, she found the courses very useful.

The above example is a complex sentence: it has a dependent clause (a subject 'Denise' and a verb 'had'), followed by an independent clause (subject 'she' and a verb 'found') and forms a complete thought.

Computers have come a long way since they first came on the market.

This example begins with an independent clause (subject 'computers' and verb 'have come') that forms a complete thought, followed by a dependent clause (subject 'they' and a verb 'came').

Subordinating Conjunctions

In these examples, the dependent clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions or subordinators. Subordinators are conjunctions that indicate the subordinate or dependent role of the clause in the sentence.

The following words are some examples of subordinating conjunctions:

  • although
  • because
  • since
  • unless
  • when
  • whereas
  • which
  • while
  • who
  • whoever
  • whose

This is by no means a complete list.

Using Subordinate Clauses in Complex Sentences

In complex sentences, subordinate clauses function within the sentence as adjectives, adverbs, or nouns.

An adjective clause is a dependent clause that functions like an adjective; an adjective modifies or describes a noun. In this sentence:

The President chose people who would help him make good decisions,

the dependent clause 'who would help him make good decisions' functions as an adjective to modify 'people.'

An adverb clause is a dependent clause that functions like an adverb; an adverb modifies or describes a verb. In the example sentence:

When the food arrived, the children ate everything,

the subordinate clause 'when the food arrived' functions as an adverb to modify 'ate.'

A noun clause is a dependent clause that functions like a noun; a noun is a person, place, or thing. In the example sentence:

Whoever signs the lease is responsible for the rent,

the subordinate clause, 'whoever signs the lease,' serves as the subject of the sentence. This sentence is considered a complex sentence because it has both an independent clause (the entire sentence) and a dependent clause, 'whoever signs the lease.'

Using Complex Sentences With Other Sentence Types

Complex sentences help you combine ideas in an interesting way. When you use them with other sentence types in your writing, the variety helps you avoid choppiness and dull repetition. Each sentence type has a set number of clauses:

  • Simple sentences have one independent clause
  • Compound sentences have at least two independent clauses
  • Complex sentences have one independent clause and at least one dependent clause
  • Compound-complex sentences have at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause

Here's an example of a paragraph that uses all four sentence types:

Maria always leaves her keys on the kitchen counter, while David always keeps his keys in his room. I leave my keys in my purse. It's important to leave your keys in one place, because if you're always losing them, you end up wasting so much time. Put your keys in the same place every day, and you'll save yourself a lot of hassle.

The first sentence, 'Maria always leaves her keys on the kitchen counter, while David always keeps his keys in his room.', is a complex sentence. It begins with an independent clause, 'Maria always leaves her keys on the kitchen counter,' and ends with a dependent clause, 'while David always keeps his keys in his room.'

The second sentence, 'I leave my keys in my purse.', is a simple sentence. It has only a single independent clause.

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