Simple, compound, complex sentences – short examples

I like this short, simple presentation, but it does leave out two examples:

A simple sentence may have a compound subject AND a compound predicate:
Tom and Jerry jumped and ran.
Tom and Jerry [COMPOUND SUBJECT] jumped and ran [COMPOUND PREDICATE].

Compound sentences may be joined by a semicolon, a conjunctive adverb, and a comma:
Tom and Jerry jumped and ran; thus, the chase was on.
Tom and Jerry jumped and ran; thus, [CONJUNCTIVE ADJECTIVE] the chase was on.

HANDOUT – How to Join Compound & Complex Sentences – Sierra College
The 8 basic sentence punctuation patterns
5+2: the 7 sentence patterns of English
3 ways to combine the 7 sentence patterns

D.T.’s astute observation

In class yesterday, the subject of “disappearing” grammar came up: specifically, the distinction between lie and lay.

Lay takes an object (or used to, back in the day). Lie does not take an object.

So: You lie down, but you lay something down:  

S V  A  
I lie down.  
S V  O  A
I lay the book on the table.

Therefore: you can lay yourself down, but you can’t lay down!

During our discussion, I wrote the first line of a classic children’s bedtime prayer on the board and analyzed its parts.

“Now I lay me down to sleep”
S V  O A
I lay me down [now]
compare to:
S V  A  
I lie down  

The reason it’s OK to say “I lay me down” but not OK to say “I’m going to lay down” is that “lay” requires an object, and in the sentence “Now I lay me down to sleep,” “me” is the object.

This brings me to DT’s astute observation, which he posed in the form of an astute question:

Why is “me” an object, not a complement?

DT pointed out that in SVC sentences the subject and the complement refer to the same thing:

S V  C
Something is (or is not) something
I am a student
I am an instructor
I am intelligent
I am [not] a student
I am [not] an instructor
I am [not] intelligent

In all cases above, the subject and the complement refer to the same thing.

[Adding the adverb “not” changes nothing. You can tell me that you are a student, or you can tell me that you are not a student; it doesn’t matter. In either case you are talking about yourself.]

DT’s observation: in “Now I lay me down to sleep,” “I” and “me” refer to the same thing, so “me” should be considered a complement, not an object.

Good point!

DT has brought to light an important exception to the SVC-SVO rule:

In SVO sentences like “I lay me” or “I hurt myself,” the subject and the object refer to the same thing.

S V  C  
Something is something  
I am a student  
 I  am a good writer  
 I  am intelligent  
S V  O  A
I lay the book on the table
I throw the ball
I like pizza  
I like myself  
He likes himself  
She likes herself  
I lay myself down
I lay [me??] down

When the subject is also the object of the verb, the subject and the object do refer to the same thing. In this case we use a reflexive pronoun:

Personal pronoun Reflexive pronoun
I, me, my, mine myself
you, your, yours yourself
 it, its  itself
he,  him, his himself
she, her, hers herself
we, us, our, ours ourselves
they, them, theirs themselves

DT did a great job picking up on this exception and pointing it out to the class. Good work, and thank you!

NOTE #1: Technically, “Now I lay ME down to sleep” is incorrect. The correct pronoun these days is “myself.” But “Now I lay myself down to sleep” is a dreary formulation, which has no magic. I assume that the poet’s decision to use “me” instead of “myself” is a case of poetic license.

NOTE #2: This Masters Thesis (“Reflexivity on the Move: An Historical Study on the Reflexive Pronouns Herself and Himself”) reports that Old English, which people spoke long before “Now I lay me down to sleep” was written, used the word “me” where we would say “myself.” In Old English “I see me” was correct.

NOTE #3: “Lay” is called a transitive verb, “lie” intransitiveShort online quiz on transitive and intransitive verbs – with answers – here.mergecells

5 + 2: the 7 ‘canonical’ English sentences
3 ways to combine the 7 sentence patterns
10 basic sentence patterns in the English language
SM’s sophisticated SVOO sentence
DT’s astute observation (reflexive pronouns)

A short overview of English syntax by Rodney Huddleston

“Syntactically ambiguous” news headlines

A syntactically ambiguous headline:

Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years

syntax: the way words are put together in a language to form phrases, clauses, or sentences. “Syntactically” is the adverb form of syntax.
SIL International

ambiguous: open to or having several possible interpretations

The phrase “syntactically ambiguous” means that a sentence or expression is ambiguous because of its syntax. Change the order of the words, and the ambiguity is resolved.


Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Axe” could mean one of two things:

  1. An enraged cow used an axe to attack a farmer.
  2. An enraged cow attacked a farmer who was holding an axe.

Unless the axe is critical to the story, I would fix this headline by striking the last two words:

Enraged Cow Injures Farmer

EXERCISE: Syntactically ambiguous headlines

Created by Bucknell University’s Department of Linguistics, Culture, and Languages.

Talking vs writing, part 1

[A]ny written language, whether English or Chinese, results from centuries of development and elaboration by a small number of users – clerics, administrators, lawyers and literary people. The process involves the development of complex syntactic constructions and complex vocabulary. In spite of the huge prestige enjoyed by written language in any literate society, spoken language is primary…

– Miller, Jim. An Introduction to English Syntax. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002. xii-xiv. Print.

Longer excerpt here