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I know that a simple sentence is a sentence with one complete idea and that a compound sentence is a combination of independent clauses where each independent clause delivers a complete idea. How about the following sentences? Are these compound sentences or simple sentences?

Love is like a bullet: It kills everyone on its way.

I have very little time to learn the language: my new job starts in five weeks.

A college degree is still worth something: a recent survey revealed that college graduates earned roughly 60% more than those with only a high school diploma.

All three of their children are involved in the arts: Richard is a sculptor, Diane is a pianist, and Julie is a theater director.

The sentences carry one complete idea; therefore, they are simple sentences. There are two simple sentences; therefore, they are compound sentences.

Which view is right?

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  • Does "It kills everyone in Its way" carry a complete idea? When read in isolation we don't know what it is. – nnnnnn Jul 24 '20 at 13:55
  • @nnnnnn, Does that mean the given sentence is a simple sentence? – Marat Pussurmanov Jul 24 '20 at 14:12
  • Carry one complete idea is a vague term, and a whole paragraph could fit. Each example could be a pair of sentences. – Yosef Baskin Jul 24 '20 at 14:17
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    Any question that begins with a statement like "I know that chunk of old grammar book" is almost certain to be the wrong question. And this is a good example. – John Lawler Jul 24 '20 at 15:39
  • The terms simple, compound and complex, when applied to sentences, are meaningless in serious (scholarly) grammar. In any case, they are grammatical terms relating to the clauses in a sentence and whether they are 'main' or 'subordinate', and have nothing to do with complete ideas. What could you possibly hope to gain by trying to categorise sentences in this way? – BillJ Jul 24 '20 at 16:02
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Your example Love is like a bullet: It kills everyone on its way has two simple sentences and a colon that is separating the two independent clauses. The second clause expands on the first.

A compound sentence is basically two or more simple sentences joined together by coordinating conjunctions, semicolons, or colons.

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  • this answer is rather vague. ( – Marat Pussurmanov Jul 25 '20 at 10:41
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    But it's correct, because that's all "a compound sentence" is. As I said above, it's the wrong question, because it's based on the wrong assumptions (not "knowledge" -- know is factive, so you can't know things that aren't true). Yes, it is a compound sentence (if you want to define compound sentence that way); no, it's not a compound sentence (if you want to define it a different way). Your terminology, your language, your sentence, your choice. – John Lawler Jul 25 '20 at 15:58
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"One complete idea" is not a very good description of an independent clause.  It's like "person, place or thing" as the description of a noun.  These are first approximations, not rigorous definitions.

Another approximation for an independent clause is "something that can stand as a complete sentence".  That is somewhat circular, since we define complete sentences, simple sentences and compound sentences in terms of the clauses and relationships between them that those sentences contain.

We can break out of the circle in this way:  Subordination is whatever lets one clause act as the constituent of another.  An independent clause is a finite clause without subordination.

Having established all that, we still lack a definitive answer to the question.

 

Love is like a bullet:  It kills everyone on its way.

As written, these are two complete sentences -- two simple sentences, because each sentence contains only one clause.

I have very little time to learn the language: my new job starts in five weeks.

Here, this is written as one sentence.  The only significant difference is the lack of a capital letter after the colon.  If it's one sentence, then it's a sentence with two coordinate independent clauses -- a compound sentence.

All three of their children are involved in the arts:  Richard is a sculptor, Diane is a pianist, and Julie is a theater director.

Here, we can only guess.  "Richard" is a proper name.  The capital letter here tells us nothing about whether a new sentence has started.  This could be one single compound sentence, or it could be a simple sentence followed by a compound sentence.  Either way, there are four independent clauses.

 

A college degree is still worth something: a recent survey revealed that college graduates earned roughly 60% more than those with only a high school diploma.

This is a more complicated example.  It is complex.

A simple sentence contains one clause.  A compound sentence contains more than one independent clause.  A complex sentence contains at least one subordinate clause.

As written (with the lower-case "a") this is one sentence.  The colon coordinates an independent clause with a matrix clause, so the sentence is compound.  Additionally, there is a matrix: the clause after the colon contains another clause, a subordinate clause.

On its own, "A recent survey revealed that college graduates earned roughly 60% more than those with only a high school diploma" contains two finite clauses, one with the finite verb "revealed", the other with "earned".  If it were written as a sentence on its own, it would be a complex sentence.

The complete original sentence here is both compound and complex.  It has coordinate clauses and a subordinate clause. 

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  • Grammarly contains 'When a colon introduces a complete sentence, you may capitalize the first word after the colon according to some style guides.' Unless one reads 'a complete sentence' as meaning 'what could stand as a complete sentence, capitalising if necessary', this must demand that 'you may begin the sentence after the colon with a lowercase letter'. // I'd say that a colon can't be the end of a sentence. 'Love is like a bullet: It kills everyone on its way.' and 'Love is like a bullet: it kills everyone on its way.' are merely style variants of a single sentence. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 24 '20 at 14:55
  • The Grammarly link: Grammarly. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 24 '20 at 14:56
  • That doesn't holds water, @Edwin.  Consider "All three children are involved in the arts:  Richard is a sculptor.  Diane is a pianist.  Julie is a theatre director."  Unless you want to claim that a colon cannot introduce three separate sentences, you shouldn't insist that it can't introduce one. – Gary Botnovcan Jul 24 '20 at 15:08
  • I'd not consider << All three children are involved in the arts: >> a sentence. If we have a list (even of obvious sentences) after a colon, we're really into the grammar of formatting (here bulleting) rather than standard grammar. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 24 '20 at 16:30
  • @EdwinAshworth, a good note. now it clarifies the matter. Two thumbs up! – Marat Pussurmanov Jul 25 '20 at 10:39

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