§ 3. A complex sentence consists of a principal clause and one or more subordinate clauses.


N о t e. This definition is true, however, only in a general sense. In an exact sense there is often no principal clause; this is the case with complex  sentences containing a subject clause or a predicative clause.

(For a detailed treatment of this phenomenon see § 4, 5.)


Clauses in a complex sentence may be linked in two ways:

1. Syndetically, i. e. by means of subordinating conjunctions or connectives.

There is a difference between a conjunction and a connective. A conjunction only serves as a formal element connecting separate clauses, whereas a connective serves as a connecting link and has at the same time a syntactic function in the subordinate clause it introduces.


More and more, she became convinced that some misfortune had overtaken Paul. (Cronin) (CONJUNCTION)

All that he had sought for and achieved seemed suddenly to have no meaning. (Cronin) (CONNECTIVE)


2. Asyndetically, i. e. without a conjunction or connective.


I wish you had come earlier. (Heym)

Circumstances try the metal a man is really made of. (Collins)


A subordinate clause may follow, precede, or interrupt the principal clause.


His steps quickened as he set out for the hotel. (Cronin)

As the family had no visitors that day, its four members dined alone together. (Dickens)

It was dull and dreary enough, when the long summer evening closed in, on that Saturday night. (Collins)


A complex sentence may contain two or more homogeneous clauses coordinated with each other.


They were all obstinately of opinion that the poor girl had stolen the  moonstone, and that she had destroyed herself in terror of being found out. (Collins)

What Mr. Pancks knew about the Dorrit family, what more he really wanted to find out, and why he should trouble his busy head about them at all, were questions that often perplexed him. (Dickens)


A subordinate clause may be subordinated to the principal clause or to another subordinate clause. Accordingly we distinguish subordinate clauses of the first, second, third, etc. degree of subordination.


He never asked why Erik was giving up academic work. (Wilson)

I don’t mind making the admission... that there are certain forms of so-called humor, or, at least, fun, which I am quite unable to appreciate. (Leacock)

I think I have noticed that they have an inconsistent way of speaking about her,  as if she had made some great self-interested success in marrying Mr. Gowan... (Dickens)


According to their grammatical function subordinate clauses are divided into subject, predicative, attributive, object, and adverbial clauses.