compound sentence (English grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Compound sentence
George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) opens with this compound sentence.


In English grammar, a compound sentence is a sentence that contains at least two independent clauses. A compound sentence can be thought of as two (or more) simple sentences joined by a conjunction and/or an appropriate mark of punctuation.

Compound sentences can be formed in three basic ways:
(1) using a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) to join the main clauses;
(2) using a semicolon, either with or without a conjunctive adverb;
(3) on occasion, using a colon.

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

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "I shall call him Squishy, and he shall be mine, and he shall be my Squishy."
    (Dory in Finding Nemo, 2003)
  • "The kitchen table was set for breakfast, and the room smelled of coffee, bacon, damp plaster, and wood smoke from the stove."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper, 1952)

  • "With this stone for a throne, I look down on my pond,
    But I cannot look down on the places beyond."
    (Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle. Random House, 1958)

  • "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
    (C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 1952)
  • "The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended."
    (Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)

  • "The fields were fruitful, and starving men moved on the roads."
    (John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939)
  • "Feasts must be solemn and rare, or else they cease to be feasts."
    (Aldous Huxley, "Holy Face." Do What You Will, 1929)
  • "He carried a fat law book, so she was glad to be protected with a book of her own."
    (Bernard Malamud, The Assistant. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1957)

  • "Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much."
    (Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit, 1922)
  • "The old man said almost nothing on those drives, yet he seemed pleased with his grandson's labors."
    (William Kent Krueger, The Devil's Bed. Atria, 2003)
  • "It was dawn outside, a glowing gray, and birds had plenty to say out in the bare trees; and at the big window was a face and a windmill of arms."
    (David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, 1996)

  • "I found a snipe, and I followed it under your porch, but this snipe had a long tail and looked more like a large mouse."
    (Russell in Up, 2009)
  • "The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
    The desert sighs in the bed,
    And the crack in the teacup opens
    A lane to the land of the dead."
    (W. H. Auden, "As I Walked Out One Evening")
  • "I used to be snow white, but I drifted."
    (Mae West)
  • "Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't go to yours."
    (Attributed to Yogi Berra)
  • "Arguments are to be avoided: they are always vulgar and often convincing."
    (Oscar Wilde, The Importance Being Earnest, 1895)

  • Testing for Compound Sentences
    "Note 1: A quick test for a compound sentence is to see if you can divide the sentence into two or more simple sentences:
    The surveying was to have been completed by October 15; however, construction must start on or before November 15.

    The surveying was to have been completed by October 15. Construction must start on or before November 15.
    "Note 2: Sometimes three or more simple sentences can combine into a compound sentence:
    The site was ready, the construction crew was ready, and the materials were ready, but the weather was not cooperative."
    (Stephen R. Covey, FranklinCovey Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication, 5th ed. Pearson Education, 2012)

  • Word Groups That Aren't Compound Sentences
    "Compound sentences contrast with sentences which have only one clause. These may be simple sentences, with no subordinate clauses or they may contain subordinate clauses. So the following are not compound sentences.
    - I came.
    - When Snowy died, he was buried in the garden.
    - If that child doesn't go, I resign!
    "The definition of compound sentences involves the coordination of whole sentences, complete with all their normal parts. So cases in which just verb phrases or predicate phrases are conjoined do not produce compound sentences. Thus the following are not compound sentences.
    - I came, saw, and conquered.
    - Snowy died and was buried in the garden."
    (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994)
  • Messages Sent by Compound Sentences
    "The structure of a compound sentence sends certain messages to readers, no matter how you fill in the blanks. First, it tells readers that the sentence contains two relatively important ideas, each one deserving its own independent clause. Second, it tells readers that these two ideas are approximately equal in importance, since they are balanced as a pair. And third, it alerts readers to the relationship between the two ideas, depending on the connector. For example, and suggests that the two ideas are being added together, but indicates that they are being contrasted, and or tells us that they are alternatives. A semicolon suggests balance between two similar or sharply contrasting statements."
    (Diana Hacker and Betty Renshaw, Writing With a Voice, 2nd ed. Scott, Foresman, 1989)