Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Diagramming sentences

with 5 comments

I don’t think schools teach diagramming sentences in any more—hell, they don’t even teach cursive handwriting. But diagramming sentences is a good way to grasp the structure of a sentence—more or less as outlining reveals the structure of a paper, article, or book. Outlining, however, we generally do as an aid to writing, whereas diagramming is done after the fact, as an aid to understanding.

I had no idea of the origin and history of diagramming so I was intrigued by Kitty Florey’s article in the NY Times. Now I want to buy Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Curious History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences.

In my Sophomore language tutorial in college, we did do a bit more of diagramming, and one assignment (from Mr. Darkey, a favorite tutor) was to diagram the sentence this sonnet comprises:

The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

– by Robert Frost

Go ahead, give it a go. Diagramming that is better than Sudoku.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2012 at 10:36 am

5 Responses

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  1. I loved all the many hours I spent diagramming sentences for Sunset Grammar School homework. I prided myself using that fountain pen with black ink as a child, running lines with it above a ruler and carefully lifting the ruler after the line was complete to my satisfaction. The pride came each time I was able to extract the ruler WITHOUT smearing any ink, which would completely destroy all my work on that page.

    I was chosen to write reports for our elementary class newsletter and once was terribly put off when my supervising teacher refused to let me use an incomplete sentence. I said I knew it was incomplete but it fit well within the paragraph and context of what I was saying.

    I think diagramming helped me with the poetry I’ve written through my life.



    27 March 2012 at 10:51 am

  2. Diagramming is an amazing technology, and I think without it understanding of grammar suffers. It has fallen out of vogue among teachers, largely I think because many do not understand it well.



    27 March 2012 at 11:54 am

  3. “Who will guard the guardians?” –> “Who will teach the teachers?”

    I think we’re gradually seeing the effects of paying teachers poor wages for generations.



    27 March 2012 at 11:59 am

  4. Challenge:
    Diagram one of the almost page-long sentences written by Proust and Faulkner, or Molly Bloom’s soliloquy.



    27 March 2012 at 2:41 pm

  5. My husband works at a private school as a supervisor of security, no college just the Police Academy, and he cringes when he sees the kids’ reports on the wall, supposedly to be honored, with all of their misspellings and poorly structured sentences. Even spell check and grammar check aren’t helping these papers…and it’s sad when it is so obvious.

    The poem (though I think while writing it Frost was hitting the codeine a bit) is a good puzzle! I like good grammar and I like this post.



    27 March 2012 at 3:02 pm

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