French Language Blog

Complex Sentences (La Phrase Complexe) Posted by on Oct 27, 2008 in Grammar

 Just like in English, a complex sentence in French is a sentence with more than one clause. These are often used and many times we don’t even realize they’re so complex because several of them so easily come rolling off our tongues. To begin our discussion, there are two kinds of clauses: main clauses and subordinate clauses. Main clauses can stand alone and can be completed with one or more other clauses to provide more information in a sentence. And these subordinate clauses that complete main clauses can not stand alone as they are dependent on the main clauses and function like nouns, adjectives or adverbs. Let’s take a look at some sample sentences and break the clauses down.

Le chien est un animal qui souvent habite avec l’homme.
MAIN CLAUSE                                  SUBORDINATE CLAUSE

Bien que Christèle et Julia soient jumelles, elles ne se ressemblent pas parce qu’elles ont des personnalités très distinctes.

Above, we have two subordinate clauses (in bold) and the main clause (underlined).

Now, let’s talk about four different types of subordinate clauses.

1. LA SUBORDONNÉE RELATIVE – Relative clauses that modify noun phrases and begin with a relative pronoun (qui, que, dont, etc.)

Ex: J’ai un professeur qui est américain.

2. LA SUBORDONNÉE COMPLÉTIVE – Complement clauses that are arguments of a predicate and begin with the conjunction que. In English, these are sometimes known as “nominal that-clauses”.

Ex: Je pensais que ce magasin restait ouvert toute la nuit.

3. LES SUBORDONNÉES CIRCONSTANCIELLES – Adverbial clauses that modify other clauses just like adverbs do.

a. DE CAUSE (cause)

Ex: Je suis triste parce que mon mec m’a quitté.

b. DE CONSÉQUENCE (consequence)

Ex: Il a tellement crié qu’il a mal à la gorge.

c. DE TEMPS (time)

Ex: Quand j’ai mal à la gorge, j’aime bien manger de la glace.

d. DE BUT (purpose)

Ex: Je ferai tout pour que tu m’aimes encore.

e. DE CONDITION (condition)

Ex: Tu peux venir avec moi à condition que tes parents le sachent.

f. D’OPPOSITION (opposition)

Ex: Bien qu’elles sont soeurs, elles ont des goûts très différents.

g. DE COMPARAISON (comparison)

Ex: Elle parle à sa mère comme si c’était sa copine.

4. LA SUBORDONNÉE INTERROGATIVE INDIRECTE – Interrogative clauses that function like nominal clauses and begin with interrogative words.

Ex: Ma mère m’a demandé si j’avais fait mes devoirs. 

Okay, that’s complex enough for now, right?

C’est déjà assez complexe pour aujourd’hui, n’est-ce pas?

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  1. Mercl:

    Bien qu’elles sont• soeurs, elles ont des goûts très différents.
    • Shouldn’t sont be soient?

  2. Ashish:

    Best French movies for begginers ?

  3. Isis D.:

    Thank you for this! I was having trouble speaking complex sentences on the fly because I think of each individual small word and barely of what type of sentence it could be. I’m going to start practicing these based on type of sentence/clause instead!