Complex sentences

Aiming for a high band score in Writing? Learn to write complex sentences.

What is a complex sentence?

A complex sentence consists of one main clause and one or more subordinate clauses.

A main clause can stand on its own. It does not have to be added to another clause. A main clause contains a finite verb. Note that infinitives (e.g to sing, to write and to break) and –ing forms (singing, breaking etc.) are non-finites. They don’t make a clause.

A main clause must contain a finite verb. Note that clauses beginning with a conjunction cannot be a main clause because they need to be attached to another clause. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. We will discuss them in another lesson.

So, a main clause contains a finite verb. It does not contain a conjunction. Here are some examples of main clauses.

  • The bird sang beautifully.
  • The farmer ploughed the field.
  • The sun rises in the east.
  • Heat expands bodies.
  • Plants need sunlight to grow. (This clause has just one finite verb – need; the infinitive to grow is a non-finite verb.)
  • The dancer enthralled the audience with his stupendous performance.
  • They recognized him at once.
  • Physical activity is beneficial to health.

A subordinate clause can be an adjective clause, an adverb clause or a noun clause.

Adjective clause / Relative clause

An adjective clause serves the same purpose as an adjective. It is used to say something about a noun in the main clause. Note that adjective clauses are also known as relative clauses. They are usually introduced by the relative pronoun who, which, that, whose and whom.

Study the examples given below.

  • This is the boy who won the first prize.

Here the adjective clause ‘who won the first prize’ says something about the noun boy. It identifies the boy and hence it is also known as an identifying relative clause.

More examples of adjective clauses are given below.

  • I have a friend who works abroad. (Here the adjective clause ‘who works abroad’ modifies the noun friend.)
  • I couldn’t answer the question that she asked me. (Here the adjective clause ‘that she asked me’ modifies the noun question.)

An adjective clause goes immediately after the noun it modifies.

Adverb clauses

An adverb clause serves the same purpose as an adverb. That means it is used to modify the verb in the main clause.
There are several different kinds of adverb clauses. They are usually introduced by the subordinating conjunctions when, while, after, before, since, as, whereas, where, that, in order that, so that, because, if, whether, unless, until, till, though, although, even if, even though.

Adverb clauses express ideas such as time, place, purpose, cause, condition, result, comparison and contrast.
Study the examples given below. Adverb clauses are italicized.

  • When you have finished your job, you may go home. (Adverb clause of time)
  • Don’t talk while they are singing. (Adverb clause of time)
  • He had gone before I reached his home. (Adverb clause of time)
  • He went abroad after he finished his studies. (Adverb clause of time)
  • He has not been keeping well since he returned from the hills. (Adverb clause of time)
  • I waited for him until he came. (Adverb clause of time)
  • If you don’t mend your ways you will land in trouble. (Adverb clause of condition)
  • Though she is successful, she is very humble. (Adverb clause of concession or contrast)
  • You can put it wherever you like. (Adverb clause of place)
  • Plant it where it will get plenty of sunshine. (Adverb clause of place)
  • I die that my country may live. (Adverb clause of purpose)
  • Because I liked him, I helped him. (Adverb clause of cause/reason)
  • It was so cold that many people died. (Adverb clause of result)
  • He works harder than his brother. (Adverb clause of comparison)

Noun clause

A noun clause serves the same purpose as a noun. It can be the subject or object of the verb in the main clause. It can  also be the object of a preposition or the complement of a verb of incomplete predication.

  • What he said was true. (Here the noun clause ‘what he said’ acts as the subject of the verb ‘was’.)
  • That you should say so surprises me. (Here the noun clause ‘that you should say so’ acts as the subject of the verb  ‘surprised’)
  • He said that he wouldn’t go. (Here the noun clause ‘that he wouldn’t go’ serves as the object of the verb said.)

Pay careful attention to what I am going to say. (Here the noun clause ‘what I am going to say’ acts as the object of the preposition ‘to’.)

  • My belief is that he will not come. (Here the noun clause ‘that he will not come’ acts as the complement of ‘is’.)

A complex sentence may contain one or more subordinate clauses.

Related posts:

  1. When to use commas to separate words and phrases
  2. How to combine two sentences using a that-clause
  3. When to set off relative clauses with commas
  4. Using the adjective clause
  5. How to avoid sentence fragments
  6. Sentence patterns with subject complements
  7. Remove unnecessary conjunctions from your sentences
  8. When to use the present tense instead of the future tense?
  9. How to use tenses correctly in your IELTS essays and letters?
  10. Using not only/but also

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I'm Manjusha. This is my blog where I give IELTS preparation tips.

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