A compound sentence is characterized by one or more than one main-clauses joined by a co-ordinating conjuction, as opposed to a complex sentence, which has a main clause together with a dependent or a subordinate clause separated by a subordinating conjunction.

A subordinate/dependent clause is defined as a clause which follows/augments a main clause, and is dependent on the main clause to make complete sense.
With this definition, shouldn't clauses joined with the main clause by illative(eg. therefore, so, consequently etc) and Alternative/Disjunctive(eg. or, either....or etc.) conjunctions be classified into subordinate clauses (assuming that commonly they are classified to be co-ordinating conjunctions)?
For example, :- "because" is classified as a subordinating conjunction, the reason being that the clause following "because", is dependent on the preceding clause to make complete sense and cannot stand on its own, and hence is a subordinating clause.

He passed because he was intelligent.

But then, the following sentence should also be a complex sentence:-

He was intelligent therefore/so/consequently he passed.

Because the clause after the conjunction depends on the preceding clause, as in the action being described in the second clause (passing) is a consequence of the action described in the preceding clause (being intelligent), the same as was in the sentence with clauses joined by "because" ("being intelligent" is linked to "passing" as a reason, or that "passing" is the consequence of "being intelligent".) What difference in the meaning or the linking of the two clauses which makes the former sentence a complex one and the latter a compound sentence.

The same is true in case of disjunctive conjunctions, where or links the action of the ensuing cause to be the consequence of the failure of the action described in the preceding clause, i.e. the action in the second clause is not independently true without the action of the preceding clause not occuring. for example:-

If you do not read, you will fail.(complex)

You must read or you will fail.(compound)

Are not the clauses in both the sentences "linked" in the same way, as far as meaning is concerned?

1 Answer 1


Sentence structure is totally independent of its meaning, or the thing it wants to convey. Your confusion greatly roots on the fact that you are so concerned on the actual meaning of the sentence rather than the structure itself.

But let me demonstrate why "because" falls into subordinating conjunction category: In your example

He passed because he was intelligent.

Note that there is only one line of thought here: The mere fact that he was intelligent made him pass the exam. In other words, you are basically saying that being intelligent is a cause for him passing the test.

On the other hand

He was intelligent therefore he passed the exam

Note that there are two separate states here: first, the fact that he was intelligent; and second, the fact that he passed the exam. What "therefore" did is to combine these two separate facts in order to make an inference.

  • This means, there might not be determinants of the correct structure in the meaning of the sentence. And the classification into a co-ordinating or a subordinating conjunction is based on partly convention, and partly intuitive interpretation of the kinds and nature of the ideas involved in the sentence. The same is true for disjunctive conjunctions? Oct 29, 2013 at 11:24
  • That is correct. Although meaning could sometimes give you the idea of the correct structure. Both are independent from each other but could both help you in understanding the nature of the other.
    – gelolopez
    Oct 30, 2013 at 1:46

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