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The Four Types of Sentences: How to Add Variety to Your Writing

The English language is truly vast and varied, but for those looking to add some variety to the way they construct their sentences, here’s a piece of good news: there are only 4 basic sentence types for you to learn!

Once you understand these 4 sentence structures, you’ll be well on your way to constructing varied sentences. Armed with your new knowledge, you’ll have an edge when it comes to essay-writing on the SAT and ACT tests.

Why does sentence variety matter?

Sentence variety helps prevent prose from becoming dull or repetitive. If all of your sentences are short, simple sentences, your prose will become monotonous. On the contrary, if all of your sentences are long and convoluted compound-complex sentences, your writing runs the risk of appearing long-winded. Some of the keys to good prose are as follows:

Precise vocabulary. Not just any word, but the best word. This rule applies to all parts of speech: not just any noun, but the best noun; not just any verb, but the best verb; not just any adjective, but the best adjective, and so on.

Skilful and appropriate use of conjunctions, dependent clauses, and conjunctive adverbs. Make connections between your ideas by adding dependent clauses and employing appropriate transition words like “but,” “however,” “moreover,” and so on.

Sentence variety. You want your writing to achieve a natural rhythm, one in which sense (meaning) is your chief concern, with sound serving to highlight and make memorable that meaning.

Word economy. Don’t use five words when one will do.

The Four Types of Sentences, with Examples

1) Simple sentence

A simple sentence consists of just one independent clause. An independent clause is something that can stand alone as a complete sentence. What an independent clause requires in order to be considered an independent clause is a subject and a verb. Together, the subject and the verb form a completed thought.

Examples of simple sentences:

The dog barked.

The cat meowed.

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

Beyond the mountains and the river lies uncharted territory.

Notice that simple sentences can grow in complexity as adjectives, conjunctions, and prepositional phrases are added. They are still simple sentences! In the above examples, I’ve bolded the subject of the sentences and underlined the verb.

2) Compound sentence

The second type of sentence that you may encounter (or compose) is the compound sentence. Compound sentences contain two independent clauses.

Here are some examples of compound sentences:

The dog barked, and it ran away.

I want to get a perfect score on the SAT; therefore, I am going to study every day.

It is supposed to rain this evening, so don’t forget your umbrella.

The day was long; the night was short.

In the above examples, look for the two different independent clauses. Notice that compound sentences often include coordinating conjunctions, which I have italicized. Conjunctions are words like for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. The acronym FANBOYS can help you remember the coordinating conjunctions. Their function is to establish logical relationships between ideas. To join two independent clauses for the purpose of forming a compound sentence, you’ll need either a comma and a coordinating conjunction or a semicolon.

3) Complex sentence

A complex sentence is one that contains an independent clause and at least one dependent clause. A dependent clause is one that cannot stand alone as its own sentence, but rather depends on an independent clause to exist.

Here are some examples of complex sentences:

Because I hope to travel across Europe, I am saving the money I earn.

Although I already have twelve cats, I plan on adopting two more.

You won’t get straight A’s unless you study.

I enjoy listening to music while I write.

In the examples above, I have bolded the independent clauses and left the dependent clauses non-bold. Notice in the above examples that the independent and dependent clauses can go in either order. When the dependent clause comes first, a comma is required to separate it from the independent clause. When the independent clause comes first, no comma is required. The underlined words in the above examples are subordinating conjunctions; subordinating conjunctions are words like because, although, unless, while, after, as, before, if, since, though, until, and so on. Their function is to introduce a dependent clause.

4) Compound-complex sentence

A compound-complex sentence is one that contains two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.

Here are some examples of compound-complex sentences:

Because I was late, the bus had already left, and I had to wait another thirty minutes to catch the next one.

The meal was delicious; although she didn’t think she deserved them, Sally received numerous compliments on her cooking.

Change your study habits before it’s too late; don’t you want to go to college?

In the above examples, I have bolded the two independent clauses and left the dependent clauses non-bold. Notice how compound-complex sentences can communicate multiple thoughts and explain their relationships!

At its heart, a sentence contains a subject and a verb. But like a snowball or a piece of grit inside an oyster, sentences can accumulate more and more mass and complexity. Master the basics of sentence construction and gradually practice writing more complex sentences.

Remember, though, that the key to keeping a reader informed and engaged is sentence variety. If your writing consists entirely of compound-complex sentences, it will be tedious! Balance is essential.

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