Sentence diagramming is a critical part of your participation grade for this course, as much of what we learn this semester about syntax and the underlying structure of our language will come from completing and discussing these diagrams in class. We use a modified (read: loosey-goosey) form of the linguistic tree diagram for our diagramming; the goal of these diagrams is primarily to identify phrases and clauses in each sentence and their relationship to each other. I don’t have strict requirements about the form these diagrams take, but here are a couple of suggestions of how I might diagram the sentence “I received three packages and two letters in the mail today.” (click the image for a magnified version):
Remember these additional details about the sentence diagramming assignment:
- You must keep all of your diagrams together (I recommend in your writing notebook you’ve already got for this class). You will turn in your completed set of exercises once we’ve finished discussing all the diagrams in class.
- Bring your completed diagrams to class (don’t worry if you think they might be incorrect) and feel free to mark them up, take notes on them, etc. I’m less interested in your initial diagram being correct; the point is to make an effort and then come prepared to discuss your thinking (and correct it or learn as we go).
- Especially early on, many students find it useful to begin by identifying individual words’ parts of speech (use an online dictionary like dictionary.com for some help). Then, they zoom out and look at how words work together in phrases and clauses. As time goes on, you may feel like it’s less helpful to worry about individual words–remember that our ultimate purpose in diagramming is to identify and name phrases and clauses.
- A key to succeeding at sentence diagramming is to first identify the verb in the sentence or clause, after which you can identify the noun that is connected with that verb (i.e., the subject of the verb). Other phrases in the sentence can then be connected back to that noun/subject or the verb (as objects or modifiers).
The individual diagramming assignments for your class should be linked from the Learning Suite syllabus.