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I've run into multiple definitions of simple, complex, and compound.

According to some online sources, a simple sentence has only one independent clause (but they don't say anything about dependent clauses.)  These sites state that a sentence with one dependent and one independent clause is a 'simple complex sentence.

Other online sources state that a simple sentence must have only one clause that is independent.  According to these sources, a complex sentence is not ever a simple sentence, and vice-versa.

Is there a generally accepted 'correct' position that expert grammarians have on this matter?

 

Is it that A)

Simple = 1 independent (and may or may not have an independent)

Complex = 1 or more independent w/ dependent clause(s)

Simple-Complex = 1 independent w/ dependent clause(s)

Compound = >1 independent,  (and may or may not have an independent)

Compound-Complex = >1 independent w/ dependent clause(s)

 

or B)

Simple = 1 independent and 0 independent clauses

Complex = 1 independent w/ dependent clause(s)

Simple-Complex = Does not exist

Compound = >1 independent and 0 independent clauses

Compound-Complex  = >1 independent w/ dependent clause(s)

 

or C)

Depends on which expert grammarian you ask

 

Last edited by cwm9
Original Post

Hi again, cwm9,

@cwm9 posted:

According to some online sources, a simple sentence has only one independent clause (but they don't say anything about dependent clauses.)  These sites state that a sentence with one dependent and one independent clause is a 'simple complex sentence.

Other online sources state that a simple sentence must have only one clause that is independent.  According to these sources, a complex sentence is not ever a simple sentence, and vice-versa.

Is there a generally accepted 'correct' position that expert grammarians have on this matter?

As I explained in a previous thread, grammarians do not attach much importance to this topic.

Sentences are usually classified into simple (one independent clause with a simple or compound subject and a simple or compound predicate), compound (two or more independent clauses), complex (one main and one or more dependent clauses), and compound complex (two or more main clauses and one or more dependent clauses).

Since we can have compound complex sentences, we can call those sentences that are complex but not compound, simple complex. I don't see any contradiction here.

Thank you.

If a sentence is simple-complex, would it be acceptable to call that sentence merely 'simple' (omitting the complex part), considering the issue of whether the sentence is also complex to be a separate question?  (If the answer is yes, it comes obligatory to state that a sentence is non-complex if you which to communicate that point.)

My interest is mainly literally academic.  I've been homeschooling my son (here's to you, COVID), and came across several example test questions that asked, as an example, "Which of these sentences is a simple sentence."  Some of these tests gave as potential answers both simple-non-complex and simple-complex sentences, with simple-complex answers being marked wrong.  Other tests did the opposite, offering one simple-complex choice and multiple compound choices, but accepting as a correct answer the simple-complex sentence as an example of a 'simple' sentence.  Even though there is little grammatical importance attached to the topic, students are being tested as if there were only one right answer.  Any time students are taught and tested in a manner contrary to reality, it upsets me.

If I understand you correctly, it seems that to maintain consistency in education it should be taught and tested that a non-compound-complex sentence can be called a simple sentence, a complex sentence, or a simple-complex sentence, as grammarians consider all acceptable labels, but that if you wish to make it explicit that a sentence is non-complex you must say so: a simple non-complex sentence.

Last edited by cwm9

If I may offer my own perspective on this issue, I think it comes down to whether "sentence simplicity" has to do with the absence of more than one independent clause or with the absence of dependent clauses.

That is, if we say that a sentence is simple, are we saying that it has just one independent clause, or are we making the additional claim that the sentence does not have any dependent clauses?

What is clear is that the distinctions we wish to make involve the possible presence of one or more additional independent clauses (AICs), and the possible presence of one or more dependent clauses (DCs). Thus we have:

1) –AIC, –DC: "Billy likes cake."
2) +AIC, –DC: "Billy likes cake, and Sally likes candy."
3) –AIC, +DC: "Billy likes cake when it is his birthday."
4) +AIC, +DC: "Sally likes candy, and Billy likes cake when it is his birthday."

The disputed category is (3), where there is one or more dependent clauses but no additional independent clauses. Should we say that the sentence is complex or that it is simple and complex? Heavens to Betsy.

I propose that we say that (3) is "complex noncompound" / "noncompound complex" rather than that it is "complex simple," and that we add the further category of "compound noncomplex" / "noncomplex compound" for (2).

However, we could just do away with the category "simple" altogether:

1) noncompound noncomplex
2) compound noncomplex
3) noncompound complex
4) compound complex

The orders of the terms in each are, of course, reversible.

I agree this makes far more sense.  I do not like the dichotomy of 'simple/compound'.  A child should not be greatly faulted for confusing complex sentences with compound sentences when attempting to infer a relationship from the fact that 'simple' and 'complex' are antonyms.  To a child, a 'simple complex sentence' is a lexical nightmare even though the concept is perfectly valid.

Last edited by cwm9

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