Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The Rules of Writing-Syntax-The Sentence-Compound Sentences
By OFW chief editor: John Courtney
Published: June 16, 2013

Compound Sentences

A compound sentence contains two or more clauses or simple sentences. These may be connected by coordinating conjunctions or punctuation. (A traditional mnemonic device to remember coordinating conjunctions is FANBOYS: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.)

I wanted to practice a jig.

The previous clause is a simple sentence, and so is:

Donna wasn’t in the mood.

Add a conjunction and we have a compound sentence:

I wanted to practice a jig, but Donna wasn’t in the mood.

The simple sentences might have dissimilar lengths, as in “Timmy brought two peanut sandwiches to the riverside,” and “Brenda brought two cans of soda.” Adding a conjunction and getting rid of the repeated verb transforms them into a passable compound sentence:

Timmy brought two peanut sandwiches to the riverside, and Brenda two cans of soda.

One more example:

Sonia is cute. I hate her.

Sonia is cute, but I hate her.

In creative writing, the compound sentence is an excellent device to show balance between two concepts or strike a contrast between two similarly structured ideas. Example:

The negotiators did not agree.

The generals drew their swords.

Each of the above sentences contains well-defined ideas. Joining them, the compound sentence gathers strength.

The negotiators did not agree, so the generals drew their swords.

Children use compound sentences early to connect ideas and deliver them chatterbox-fashion when excited:

“I was at the back and Timmy had a coconut and he hit it with a stone and it didn’t break and I took a turn and it breaked...broke... and it was full of water and...”

Though a silly example, it highlights the danger of joining too many simple sentences. Aware of the need to balance paragraphs with short and longer sentences, many inexperienced writers use conjunctions with abandon and string their sentence pearls into childish necklaces.

To get rid of choppy constructions, the writer can join multiple simple sentences to add variety. Three simple statements like:

Sue bought the small-sized dress.

The dress fit like a glove.

She’s elated.

We can rewrite as:

Sue bought the small-sized dress; it fits like a glove, so she’s elated.

As we pointed out earlier, punctuation is another way to join simple sentences into compound ones. In some instances, a semicolon might be appropriate to replace a coordinating conjunction.

Michael has a drinking problem; his wine cellar is empty.

I am twelve years-old; she is only eleven.

There’s magic in prose, a wonder that expresses itself in the nuances. These are the humble details that separate good writing from keyboard diarrhea. The difference between the simple sentences “Sonia is cute” “I hate her” and the compound “Sonia is cute, but I hate her” goes beyond a comma and a conjunction.

Yin and Yang in their construction, the first sentence is affirmative and the second negative. The first is positive, the second pejorative. Yet, there’s no connection between the two statements; they could belong to different players, even different books, or chapters. Add a humble coordinating conjunction and a comma to transform these two sentences into the clauses of a compound one and magic happens:

Sonia is cute, but I hate her.

Same ideas, same ingredients, save for one extra word. The writer has tamed hate; he didn’t need the first clause to express abhorrence. Rather than loathe, the new compound sentence blushes with the feeling of an endearment.

Writers who carelessly fling their words onto paper like chicken feed miss out on the endless possibilities of prose.

Now a warning about the effect of the dreaded comma splice and the run-on sentence. Although we’ll review these horrors elsewhere, this is an excellent place to warn about their mechanics.

As we’ve seen above, we need at least one independent clause to have a complete sentence.

Shermaine has polished her manuscript.

But there’s nothing to stop our adding another independent clause to the first, such as:

She’s over the moon.

Whether we end with a comma splice, a run-on, or a well-written sentence depends on the way we join these two independent clauses.

If we add them with nothing in between, we create a run-on.

Shermaine has polished her manuscript she’s over the moon.

We can join them with a comma for a comma splice.

Shermaine has polished her manuscript, she’s over the moon.

But if we summon a comma and a handy coordinating conjunction, we have a correct compound sentence.
Shermaine has polished her manuscript, and she’s over the moon.

Of course, there are other ways. Rather than a compound sentence, we might strive for a complex one. If so, we can begin it with a subordinating conjunction:

Since Shermaine has polished her manuscript, she’s over the moon.

This leads us to the next section.

Writer’s Companion, Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes

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