It’s all well and good knowing stand-alone sentences, but sentences don’t often hang around on their own, do they? My Grammar and Writing students were having a bit of a time with sentence structures, so I found a little trick to help them.


Each sentence needs a subject and a verb – many of them have more than one. When you can find the subjects and the verbs, then you’re a lot closer to working out what kind of sentence you have.

If a sentence has 1 subject and 1 verb then it’s a simple sentence.

Simple sentences can be hard though.
What about this?

Joan and Peter like to shop and to walk every Sunday.

To the untrained eye, it’s easy to think there are two subjects and two verbs BUT they are written as subject + subject, then verb + verb, which means it’s a compound subject (Joan and Peter is the subject) and a compound verb (shops and walks becomes a compound verb) NOT to be confused with a compound sentence!

If you can find 2 different subjects and 2 different verbs (S+V and S+V) then it’s a compound or complex sentence.

The compound sentence can be indentified either by a semi-colon or by the word after the comma: if it’s a ‘FANBOYS’ for, and, but, or, nor, yet, or so then you’re looking at a compound sentence.

Every Sunday, Joan and Peter like to walk, and they like to shop.

Notice that Joan and Peter remains the compound subject and like is the verb, then there’s a comma+and combo, which separates the clauses, and they becomes the second subject with like taking the second verb role.

If what follows the comma, or is at the beginning of the sentence, is a subordinating conjunction, then you have a complex sentence.

If there are commas either side of a semi-colon or a FANBOYS+comma combo the chances are it’s a compound-complex sentence. Identify the S+V combos either side of the semi-colon and check the purpose of the comma aswell – if the comma separates items in a list make sure there are S+V combos scattered around the sentence.

So, keep your eyes open for the subjects and verbs in your sentences and you’ll be able to spot all kinds of patterns that will benefit your own writing enormously.

Proofreader, copy-writer and copy-editor

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