What Is a Compound-Complex Sentence?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Compound-complex sentences have two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause

ThoughtCo / Ran Zheng

In English grammar, a compound-complex sentence is a sentence with two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. Also known as a complex-compound sentence.

The compound-complex sentence is one of the four basic sentence structures. The other structures are the simple sentence, the compound sentence, and the complex sentence.

Examples and Observations

  • "The compound-complex sentence is so named because it shares the characteristics of both compound and complex sentences. Like the compound sentence, the compound-complex has two main clauses. Like the complex sentence, it has at least one subordinate clause. The subordinate clause can be part of an independent clause."
    (Random House Webster's Pocket Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, 2007)
  • "His blue eyes were light, bright and sparkling behind half-mooned spectacles, and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice."
    (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Scholastic, 1998)
  • "The door of the morning room was open as I went through the hall, and I caught a glimpse of Uncle Tom messing about with his collection of old silver."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters, 1938)
  • "All of us are egotists to some extent, but most of us—unlike the jerk—are perfectly and horribly aware of it when we make asses of ourselves." (Sidney J. Harris, "A Jerk," 1961)
  • "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them . . . well, I have others."
    (Groucho Marx)
  • "The Druids used mistletoe in ceremonies of human sacrifice, but most of all the evergreen became a symbol of fertility because it flourished in winter when other plants withered." (Sian Ellis, "England's Ancient 'Special Twig.'" British Heritage, January 2001)
  • "We operate under a jury system in this country, and as much as we complain about it, we have to admit that we know of no better system, except possibly flipping a coin."
    (Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Guide to Marriage and/or Sex, 1987)
  • "She gave me another of those long keen looks, and I could see that she was again asking herself if her favourite nephew wasn't steeped to the tonsils in the juice of the grape." (P.G. Wodehouse, Plum Pie, 1966)
  • "In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards."
    (Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, 1930)

How, Why, and When to Use Compound-Complex Sentences

  • "The compound-complex sentence consists of two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses. This syntactic shape is essential in representing complex relationships and so is frequently put to use in various forms of analytical writing, especially in academic writing. It is also probably true that the ability to use compound-complex sentences elevates a writer's credibility: it demonstrates that he or she can bring together in a single sentence a range of different pieces of information and order them in relationship to each other. This is not to say that the compound-complex sentence invites confusion: on the contrary, when handled carefully, it has the opposite effect—it clarifies the complexity and enables readers to see it clearly."
    (David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen, Writing Analytically, 6th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)
  • "Compound-complex sentences get unwieldy in a hurry. So clear writers minimize their use, generally restricting them to no more than 10 percent of their work.
    "But varying the sentence structures in a piece makes it more interesting, and writers who care about rhythm will stray from the simpler forms to mix in compound sentences now and then." (Jack Hart, A Writer's Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work. Anchor, 2006)
  • "Compound-complex sentences are used infrequently in business messages because of their length." (Jules Harcourt et al., Business Communication, 3rd ed. South-Western Educational, 1996)

Punctuating Compound-Complex Sentences

  • "If a compound or a compound-complex sentence has one or more commas in the first clause, you may want to use a semicolon before the coordinating conjunction between the two clauses. Its purpose is to show the reader very clearly the division between the two independent clauses." (Lee Brandon and Kelly Brandon, Sentences, Paragraphs, and Beyond, 7th ed. Wadsworth, 2013)
  • "For in the end, freedom is a personal and lonely battle; and one faces down fears of today so that those of tomorrow might be engaged." (Alice Walker, "Choosing to Stay at Home Ten Years After the March on Washington," 1973. In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, 1983)
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Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Compound-Complex Sentence?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/compound-complex-sentence-grammar-1689870. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). What Is a Compound-Complex Sentence? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/compound-complex-sentence-grammar-1689870 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Compound-Complex Sentence?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/compound-complex-sentence-grammar-1689870 (accessed June 4, 2023).