Compound Sentence

by Craig Shrives

What Is a Compound Sentence? (with Examples)

A compound sentence is a sentence with at least two independent clauses.
compound sentence
An independent clause (unlike a dependent clause) can stand alone as a sentence.

Examples of Compound Sentences

Below are examples of compound sentences. In each example, the independent clauses are shaded.
  • Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. (Physicist Albert Einstein)
  • There used to be a real me, but I had it surgically removed. (Actor Peter Sellers)
  • Go, and never darken my towels again. (Comedian Groucho Marx)
  • (Note: Go is the shortest sentence in English.)
  • Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain - and most fools do. (Author Dale Carnegie)

Joining the Independent Clauses in a Compound Sentence

In a compound sentence, the independent clauses are joined using one of the following methods:
  • A conjunction with a comma (e.g., ", and")
    • I like tea, and he likes coffee.
  • A semicolon
    • I like hot chocolate; it sends me to sleep.
  • A colon
    • I know one thing: I love that girl.
    • (This is rare because the words after a colon are not often an independent clause.)
  • A dash
    • I know you're hereI can smell your perfume.
  • A conjunction with a semicolon (e.g., "; and")
    • After the lights went out, I could hear you whispering; and I know you were talking about me.
    • (This is rare because it's an outdated style.)
Read more about commas before conjunctions. Read more about using semicolons. Read more about using colons. Read more about using dashes. Read more about using semicolons before conjunctions.

The Four Types of Sentence Structure

A compound sentence is one of four main sentence structures, all of which are shown below. In these examples, the independent clauses are shaded.

A Complex Sentence. A complex sentence has an independent clause and at least one dependent clause. For example:
  • Diplomacy is the art of saying "nice doggie" until you can find a rock. (Will Rogers, 1879-1935)
A Compound Sentence. A compound sentence has at least two independent clauses. For example:
  • Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. (Joseph Heller, 1923-1999) (Jane Wagner)
  • (This example has three independent clauses.)
A Simple Sentence. A simple sentence has just one independent clause. For example:
  • A country can be judged by the quality of its proverbs. (German Proverb)
A Compound-Complex Sentence. A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. For example:
  • I stopped believing in Santa Claus when he asked for my autograph in a department store, but I still want to believe in him.
There are two great reasons to learn about compound sentences.

(Reason 1) Deciding whether to put a comma before "and" (or any conjunction).

A conjunction (e.g., "and," "or," "but") that joins two independent clauses in a compound sentence is preceded by a comma. A conjunction that joins two of anything else is not normally preceded with a comma. For example:
  • She tells great jokes and sings brilliantly.
  • (There is no comma before "and." This is a simple sentence. It is just a list of two verbs, "tells" and "sings.")
  • She tells great jokes, and she sings brilliantly.
  • (This time, there is a comma before "and." This is a compound sentence. The clauses either side of the "and" could be standalone sentences, i.e., they're independent clauses.)
Here is a real-life example. In this example, the independent clauses are shaded.
  • A geek is a guy who has everything going for him, but he's just too young. He's got the software, but he doesn't have the hardware yet. (Filmmaker John Hughes)
  • (Note that the conjunctions (in bold) are preceded by commas because the clauses either side of them are independent clauses. This is two compound sentences.)
  • A geek is a guy who has everything going for him but is just too young. He's got the software but doesn't have the hardware yet.
  • (Note the commas have gone. This is two simple sentences.)
The trick is to look for a subject-verb pairing after the conjunction. If both are present in both halves of your sentence, then you should put a comma before your conjunction. Read more about commas with conjunctions.

(Reason 2) Avoid the run-on sentence.

You cannot join two independent clauses with just a comma. That causes a mistake known as the run-on sentence.
  • Dogs have masters, cats have servants.
  • Cannibals don't eat clowns, they taste funny.
  • I didn't fall, I'm just spending some quality time with the floor.
Let's fix them.
  • Dogs have masters, but cats have servants.
  • Cannibals don't eat clowns; they taste funny.
  • I didn't fallI'm just spending some quality time with the floor.
Read more about run-on sentences.

Learning the other sentence structures will also help with punctuating sentences correctly. Here is a short video explaining what we mean by compound sentence.

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See Also

What is a sentence? What are independent clauses? What are dependent clauses? What is a complex sentence? What is a simple sentence? Commas before conjunctions Glossary of grammatical terms

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