Self-Editing Part VI: Eight Sentence Patterns (Continued)

Yesterday, we talked about simple sentences and compound sentences. You saw how understanding what kind of sentence you have, makes punctuating it that much easier. Today we are going to look at complex sentences and sentences with embedded phrases or clauses.

Pattern Five: Complex Sentence (Dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence.)


Dependent marker Dependent clause[,] Independent clause[.]

A dependent clause is one that could not stand alone. This would be called a sentence fragment by
your English teachers. An example of a dependent clause is:

Because John hit the ball over the fence. 

Just reading it, you know that there is something missing. Something should follow or precede it. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense. Dependent clauses are begun with a "dependent marker." The following are some examples. 

because
before
since
while
although
if
until
when
after
as
as if

Additionally, most prepositions like "in, over, on, outside of, beneath, etc." are dependent clause markers.

When the dependent clause comes at the beginning of the sentence, it precedes what it is dependent upon. It depends on the rest of the sentence. In a way its a backwards sentence because we are getting the explanation before we get the thing that needs explaining. As such, the comma comes after the clause. For example:

Because John hit the ball over the fence, the coach made him team captain.

Pattern Six: Complex Sentence (Dependent clause at the end of the sentence.)

Independent Clause Dependent Clause Marker Dependent Clause[.]

When the dependent clause (like the ones we mentioned above) appears at the end of a sentence,  then it requires no comma. For instance:

The coach made John team captain because he hit the ball over the fence. 

Many of us, myself included, treat the word because as if it is a conjunction. It is not. It's a marker for a dependent clause. If you find yourself treating these dependent clause markers as conjunctions in your first draft, here's a quick trick. Use the find function on your word processor. Plug in a word like "because" and search for it. Check each instance to make sure there is no comma in front of it. It sounds laborious, but in reality it will take just a few minutes. 

Pattern Seven: Nonessential Dependent Clause or phrase in the middle of a sentence.

First part of sentence[,] nonessential dependent clause or phrase[,] second part of sentence[.]

Sometimes a sentence will break in the middle to provide some extra information. Sometimes this is essential to understanding the sentence. Sometimes it is not. Distinguishing between the two is sometimes an art. Two people looking at the same clause may sometimes disagree about it being essential. However, most times it is obvious. 

This sentence pattern is for times when the extra information is not really essential to the sentence. 

John, who is dating Carol, hit the ball over the fence

John's relationship with Carol is unrelated to his ability to hit the ball. 

Pattern Eight: Essential dependent clause or phrase in the middle of a sentence.

First part of sentence essential dependent clause or phrase last part of sentence[.]

Sometimes the clause is essential to the understanding of the sentence. This is often in order to set apart a class of the subject. An Example:

Players who are trained to hit a fastball have no trouble knocking John's pitches out of the park. 

We are not talking about all players. We are limiting the scope of our discussion to just those who have been trained to hit a fastball. Indeed, this would make little sense if we removed the clause. 


There you have them eight sentence patterns. I hope you didn't get too bored going over this. However, if you learn these patterns, a huge percentage of your punctuation editing issues will be solved. 


Bonus: Quick Pattern Cheat Sheet

Now that you understand the basics, print out this cheat sheet to help you when you are editing. 

Simple Sentence


Independent clause[.]

John hit the ball.

Compound Sentence (with coordinating conjunction)


Independent Clause[,] Coordinating Conjunction Independent Clause

John hit the ball, and he ran the bases.

Compound Sentence (with no coordinating conjunction)


Independent Clause[;] Independent Clause

John hit the ball; he ran the bases.

Compound Sentence (independent marker)


Independent clause[;] independent marker[,] independent clause[.]

John hit the ball; however, he thought he could have done better.

Complex Sentence (Dependent clause at beginning of sentence)


Dependent marker Dependent clause[,] Independent clause[.]

Because John hit the ball over the fence, the coach made him team captain.


Complex Sentence (independent clause at the end of sentence)


Independent Clause Dependent Clause Marker dependent Clause[.]

The coach made John team captain because he hit the ball over the fence.

Sentence with nonessential dependent clause in middle of sentence


First part of sentence[,] nonessential dependent clause or phrase[,] second part of sentence[.]

John, who was dating Carol, hit the ball over the fence.

Sentence with essential clause in middle of sentence


First part of sentence essential dependent clause or phrase last part of sentence[.]

Players who are trained to hit a fastball have no problem with John's pitches.

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