simple sentence (English grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Simple sentence
A series of three simple sentences by Ella Baker, quoted by Janus Adams in Sister Days: 365 Inspired Moments in African American Women's History (Wiley, 2000).

Definition

In English grammar, a simple sentence is a sentence with only one independent clause (also known as a main clause). Also known as a clausal sentence.

Though a simple sentence doesn't contain any subordinate clauses, it isn't always short. A simple sentence often contains modifiers. In addition, subjects, verbs, and objects in simple sentences may be coordinated.

The simple sentence (also called a clausal sentence) is one of the four basic sentence structures.

The other structures are the compound sentence, the complex sentence, and the compound-complex sentence.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Examples

  • "I am an invisible man."
    (Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952)
     
  • "Fern came slowly down the stairs."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper & Row, 1952)
     
  • "Her eyes were red from crying."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper & Row, 1952)
     
  • "Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways."
    (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Bloomsbury, 1999)
     
  • "Mother died today."
    (Albert Camus, The Stranger, 1942)
     
  • "Of course, no man is entirely in his right mind at any time."
    (Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger, 1916)
     
  • "Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead."
    (James Thurber, "The Shrike and the Chipmunks," 1939)
     
  • "I'd rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph."
    (Ken Kesey)
     
  • "Expect nothing. Live frugally
    On surprise."
    (Alice Walker, "Expect Nothing." Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973)
     
  • "I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them."
    (Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, 1939)

     
  • "Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper & Row, 1952)
     
  • "They shot the six cabinet ministers at half-past six in the morning against the wall of a hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard. All the shutters of the hospital were nailed shut. One of the ministers was sick with typhoid. Two soldiers carried him downstairs and out into the rain."
    (Ernest Hemingway, Chapter Five of In Our Time. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925)
     
  • "Lord Emsworth adjusted his pince-nez and sought inspiration from the wall-paper."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh, 1915)
     
  • "Atheism is a non-prophet organization."
    (George Carlin)
     

Observations

  • "A sentence is classified simple even when it has a compound subject or predicate (or both) and includes modifying words and phrases:
    - You and your friends can see the mountain on your next trip.
    - You can see the mountain and climb to the top.
    (R. DiYanni and P. C. Hoy II, Scribner Handbook for Writers. Allyn and Bacon, 2001)

     
  • Simple Sentences in Business Writing
    "You can communicate an idea clearly using a simple sentence. This sentence structure gives the greatest emphasis to the idea because there are no distracting dependent clauses. The simple sentence is effective in composing business messages. It is clear, concise, and efficient for communicating—the simple sentence is businesslike. Overuse of simple sentences in a message, however, can result in choppy, singsong monotony—particularly if the sentences are all short."
    (A.C. Buddy Krizan et al., Business Communication, 8th ed. South-Western, Cengage, 2011)
     
  • George Campbell on Degrees of Simplicity
    "With regard to simple sentences, it ought to be observed first, that there are degrees in simplicity. 'God made man,' is a very simple sentence. 'On the sixth day God made man of the dust of the earth after his own image,' is still a simple sentence in the sense of rhetoricians and critics, as it hath but one verb, but less simple than the former, on account of the circumstances specified."
    (George Campbell, The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 1776)
     
  • Clausal Sentences
    "The syntactically most straightforward sentences have the form of a single clause . . .

    CLAUSAL SENTENCES (having the form of a clause)
    a. Kim is an actor.
    b. Pat is a teacher.
    c. Sam is an architect.

    In traditional grammar [these] examples are called 'simple sentences,' but we don't use this term; it covers only a subset of what we call clausal sentences."
    (R. Huddleston and G. K. Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 2006)