Fun with sentence diagramming

This week, we seem to have fallen into a theme that might be called “fun with grammar” or “fun with words,” so I’m going to lean into that with something I personally think is fun:

This is from this site right here.

You see how this particular English teacher is cheating just a bit — or not cheating exactly — I mean compensating in a clever way for the existence of implied words. That’s the “x,” with this instructor is interpreting as the preposition “on,” which makes sense.

Here’s another I especially like:

I think I belong to the last generation that learned to diagram sentences, and I think they were much simpler, more boring sentences. I liked the exercise, though. I would like to see sentence diagramming brought back, so that I could stop saying, “The grammatical subject is not necessarily the first noun you encounter in the sentence” and “the subject is the thing verbing the direct object” and so on. Students would do a lot better sorting out their often awkward sentences if they actually knew what “subject” and “object” meant, not to mention “preposition.”

Many more lovely sentences diagrammed at the linked post — not just Shakespeare either, but Queen Elizabeth and Machiavelli and click through and enjoy them!

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9 thoughts on “Fun with sentence diagramming”

  1. Oh, I will have to go look at this. We didn’t do a lot of sentence diagramming when I was in school but we did some, and I really enjoyed it. In retrospect, I think it tickled the same logic-based part of my brain that programming did later.

  2. The homeschool co-op we were in when my kids were in upper-elementary school did sentence diagramming. My kids always grumbled about it, but now that they’re in high school they actually wish it was included in their English classes (actually, they both wish they could take a grammar class instead of English, because they’re so sick of reading depressing books and would love to learn more about the structure of our language, but the school does not offer that as an option). My very mathematically-inclined daughter was especially good at sentence diagramming–it made sense to her and helped writing make more sense, too. I think it’s a shame it isn’t still taught generally!

  3. AARGH, Louise, I am right there with your kids! I REALLY hated nearly all the books assigned in classes because the teachers were so sure that “deep” and “worthy literature” are categories that are completely contained within the Venn diagram circle labeled “depressing books where you hate all the characters.” If you can’t force the teachers to include books that are fun to read, it’s too bad straight-up grammar isn’t an option.

    Now I really want to see a class about grammar, punctuation, syntax, allusion, metaphor, and voice — that uses a lot of great sentences from great books to illustrate topics and for practice exercises — and that then segues into creative writing. An unachievable dream, alas. But there’s no reason grammar and punctuation have to be boring, and it’s counterproductive to try to handle those topics in isolation imo.

  4. I learned a little sentence diagramming in middle school and deeply distrusted it. I remember being very annoyed because there was no difference between diagramming a preposition that you clearly needed in the sentence and one that you didn’t. Then later in life I learned how to sentence-diagram using X-bar theory, which is wonderfully entertaining.

  5. I didn’t learn sentence diagramming until college (at least not that I remember; it seems like the kind of thing my middle school English teacher would have taught us). It was interesting then, but these examples are on another level! What an awesome blog!

    I like the sound of that class, Rachel. Much better than the obligatory depressing books. If I didn’t already love reading, those would’ve put me off of it forever. Ugh.

  6. I loved sentence diagramming because, like someone said above, it ticked those nice logic centers in my brain. It’s useful to know how a sentence works and how all the pieces fit together. Grammar is vital and I am so grateful we really studied it in English class. My 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Babyak, was incredibly enthusiastic about it and I learned a lot. I admittedly have forgotten some of the terminology for exactly what verb tense is called what, but I remember how and when to use them, so that’s what counts!

    Also, I enjoyed this book on the topic: “Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences” by Kitty Burns Florey.

  7. I was exposed to diagramming in the 7th grade in 1969-1970 by a teacher who was very intelligent but had no teaching ability and no concept of intuitive “tricks” for teaching grammar. For example, the ear of a native speaker of English tells one that the pronoun “me” is correct in “George gave the ball to me,” so therefore “me” is still correct in “George gave the ball to David and me.” No need to know that the object of the preposition “to” requires an objective case pronoun; which frankly, for this 7th grader, was too sophisticated. I can remember how disheartening it was, hearing her go on and on about “predicate adjectives” and such grammatical constructions. I realize now that she was teaching a college-level course. A teacher, like an entertainer, should know her audience. She made school a misery and imbued in me a dislike of formal education. (And then I had her again in the 9th grade!)

  8. Richard, you are SO RIGHT. It’s so easy to teach so much grammar with casual rules and by ear. There is no need whatsoever to say a word about predicate adjectives.

    Nevertheless, I think sentence diagramming is really helpful in showing the basic parts of the sentence are “the person doing something” “the verb” “the thing that was verbed.” And yes, I would use the word “verbed” in this context. Once you have this much, then “subject” and “object” will be clear forever. But I wouldn’t actually say “objective case pronoun.” I would say “object.” There’s no great need to distinguish between nouns and pronouns here, or worry about modifiers. Just “the person doing the verb” “the verb” “the thing being verbed.”

    Then introduce more complexity only after that is perfectly clear.

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