Diagraming Sentences!!!

I was with a friend who has a young little girl last night. She was doing her homework and it included diagraming sentences (she goes to catholic school). i didn’t even think they did that anymore but it brought me back. And then it made me angry . . .

Damn those diagrams. The most ugly, boring, piece of education I have ever recieved. SOOOOOO glad I did it to those hundreds of sentences. Thank you Sister Mary Agnes for inflicting that hell upon us. Nothing we could do. If you don’t want the buisiness end of the ruler, diagram boy! never again. I’ll mak grammitical errors, spelling errors, Capitalization errors, all just to spite those god-awful diagrams. I hate diagrams. hate em Hate em hate em hate em.

then the shame. 9 year old asks me to help her with the diagrams. i can’t do it!!! can’t remember!!! All those hundreds of diagrams and it’s all blocked. Repressed. gone but not totally. Oh the hell. the hell.

Stop the scilence! Diagrams are wrong.


Sorry, but I thought the diagramming was pretty useful. Granted, I hated it then, but I at the time I hated anything that kept me away from my Atari 2600.

It taught me a lot about sentence structure.

Two words - Venn diagrams.

Abe babe:

The atari 2600? You mean the gateway system? Use of that leads to abuse of other, harder game systems. At least you could beat the Atari games in a couple of hours. Now the games are so big a nice 6 month adventure is getting to be the norm.

So, if it takes me a year to beat 3 or 4 games and 50 games a year come out that I want to beat, where does that leave me? I hope they get the whole aging thing under control, or else I’m gonna run out of time!

DaLovin’ Dj

I’d just like to add that, while diagramming sentences is miserable, it improved my writing skills tremendously. Short term pain for long term gain. Oh yeah!

I hated diagramming sentences as much as the next person, perhaps even more. I moved into a school district in 8th grade. They had been diagramming sentences for several years. I, on the other hand, hadn’t done that since 3rd grade. The teacher thought I was a moron because I didn’t know how. I worked very hard to learn, though, and in the end it paid off. I have a better understanding of the English language, and because of that, it is easier for me to learn French. I am now the most kickass French student there ever was!



Hey, I’m just a casual user. I could give it up at any time. Really.

I do long for the days when you could get the cartridges for about $8.00. A good day of raking or shovelling snow could get you a new cartridge.

About that aging thing. Send me $50.00 and a case of Newcastle Brown Ale and I can send Rocko over to make sure you never grow old. (Insert BIG smilie here)

I hated diagramming sentences, too. After 6th grade, when we stopped doing grammar and started doing literature, I instantly went from a C- to an A student in English. I proudly scoured all memory of how to diagram a sentence from my brain, and swore never to look back.

But in my last year of college (year six, for those of you keeping score) I took a linguistics course as part of my degree requirement. We learned how to diagram sentences. That’s all we did, for an entire semester. And I loved it! It was fascinating, it showed me so much about how we use language, and I was really, really good at it. I had a moment of senior panic when I thought that I should switch my major to Linguistics. (Luckily, my common sense prevailed and followed through on that oh-so-more-valuable English Lit. degree :rolleyes: )

My point? I don’t have one.


Yup, put me in the pro-diagramming camp. And I also support memorization of grammar rules and multiplication tables.

See, I like being educated. I like using the English language correctly, and I constantly strive to improve my reading and writing skills.

And I believe that “this is stupid and boring, it sucks, I don’t need to know it” to be an inherently destructive and childish attitude.

But again, fuck it. As long as you don’t give a shit, those of us who do are fractionally better off.

I loved Venn diagrams … and the rest of logic.

And we never diagrammed sentences, but we probably should have given what most of my classmates in writing courses, and foreign language courses seem to know about basic grammar. I admit, most everything I know about grammar comes from French and Latin courses. And these made me much better prepared for linguistics…
I’m sure there are lots of things I hate learning, but there’s usually a reason why I’m learning them.

I’m an anti, personally.

However, I have several huge biases. First, I have a philosophical obejection to memorization before (or instead of) understanding. Second, I already knew how to read before I was taught phonics. I knew how to write before I was taught diagramming.

If either were taught as a new cool way to observe language, they might have been okay. Both were presented to me as “the way to learn to read” and “The way to learn to write sentences”. Which sucked horribly. Give me a new concept, and I’m all over it. Tell me to memorize ye olde pile of crap, and I’m gone. I’ll use my mind on things that take thought rather than simple ‘memory space’.

So what if diagramming sentences were presented to you today as a cool new way to observe language?

I took an English class this last semester, and in the last lecture, the professor told us about his research on elegant sentences. Elegant sentences fall come in two types: short sentences with a strong mental image, and incredibly long sentences with regular patterns in their diagrams.

He showed us a diagram of Lincoln’s second inaugural address to prove his point. Damned if he wasn’t right–the structure and regularity in those diagrams was impressive. I wish I could reproduce them here, instead of just saying “You gotta believe me, man. They were really cool.”

Another neat way to present it is as a natural language processing (NLP) challenge. As programming makes its way deeper into elementary education, a lot of these rote learning activities can become computational challenges.

“Kids, Robo, the computer, needs to understand this sentence. How can we break it up so that he can figure out what goes with what and respond intelligently?”

Presenting something as a “teach the computer” challenge rather than a drill gets kids thinking about the logical patterns behind the exercises. Once they have a strategy developed, they can have fun testing how well it works with the hundreds of busywork problems that would have otherwise been boring.

I’m firmly pro-diagramming.
It was hard and boring at first but after a (long)while, POW! all of a sudden it all made sense. It was a real mind-quake, seeing thought and language laid out visually. ultrafilter is right. It’s a difficult discipline that shows how language is structured.
Sometimes valuable things require prolonged, frustrating effort to master. If shortcuts actually work, then fine–as long as they genuinely end up at same destination. I’m not saying harder automatically equals better but I AM questioning whether quickie solutions actual yield the same results.
We were noodling around at work recently over exactly this issue. There was an amazing difference between those who’d learned by diagramming and those who hadn’t. The diagrammers forgot exact terminology and graphing techniques, e.g. dependent clauses, modifiers, etc. but nonetheless retained the concepts. The non-diagrammers were left scrabbling for memorized rules.
This is anecdotal and howling unscientific so standard caveats apply. But I lean toward believing that mastering underlying concepts is crucial to learning, that the process is often tedious but results are what matter.

And please don’t judge by my mangled sentence structure. <grins> Gaudere’s Law applies, no doubt.


I’m neutral on diagramming, with a non-emphatic lean towards pro. I don’t remember the vast bulk of terms and techniques anymore, but I do remember that I never had trouble when actually doing diagramming. I think I picked up most of grammar simply by constantly being buried in books; diagramming was just drills on already-grasped grammar sense, but I’m also pretty sure it did improve it, only mildly so.

I remember diagramming. I don’t recall ever disliking it, but I remember it was boring. This site brings back some memories.

Here is a link to Cecil’s diagramming collumn.

For fun, here are the Pledge of Allegence and the Preamble to the Constitution diagrammed.

These are, of course, the traditional Reed-Kellogg diagrams. Personally, I’ve always preferred tree diagrams. I find them more functional visually (though Reed-Kellogg diagrams are certainly prettier), and I think that they describe verb formation much better.

In any case, diagramming sentences can certainly be beneficial to some students. The problem is one of time. It takes a long time and a lot of intensive work to get to the point at which one can diagram truly complex sentences. The question then, isn’t whether sentence diagramming will help students understand English language grammar; it will certainly help some students. The real questions are whether this will help make students better writers, and if so, is this the most efficient method to accomplish this goal? Might the time spent learning and practicing diagramming be better spent actually writing and correcting one’s own writing?

As a teacher, I have about 5 1/2 hours of instructional time during the day, and every minute of every day is scheduled. Given the scheduling requirements I must deal with, I have about 60 minutes for DOL (daily oral language) grammar, spelling, and writing. Is the time that sentence diagramming would take out of that worth the benefit? I think it is, so I use a little time twice a week for sentence diagramming. Also, because I think diagramming is fun, and this rubs off onto the students. But experience has taught me that students learn how to write best by writing and correcting their own writing, and because I’ve never seen a sigle study that shows a statistically significant improvement in writing as a result of studying sentence diagramming, I tend to use my writing time mainly for writing.

I never took grammar in English, so I have to ask: what is sentence diagramming?

Scott never have took grammar class, but Scott talk good. Why need sentence diagram? Time waste, me say.