Diagramming Sentences

Guide to Grammar and Writing

A Brief Introduction
Diagramming sentences has not been much in vogue as a pedagogical device for the past thirty years or so. There are, however, many grammarians and English instructors who hold that analyzing a sentence and portraying its structure with a consistent visual scheme can be helpful—both for language beginners and for those trying to make sense of the language at any level, especially for language learners who tend to be visual-learning types. Watching a sentence take root and ramify in space can even be fun.

I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences.

— Gertrude Stein    


There are several ways to represent graphically the structure of a sentence, but the most popular method is based on schemes developed by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg over a hundred years ago. The diagrams in this section are Reed-Kellogg diagrams; in a few cases, an optional method is suggested. In these days of three-dimensional computer graphics, it won't be long before we will see colorful, three-dimensional, nonlinear representations of how sentences work, something like the Visual Thesaurus, by Plumb Design, Inc. (If you go there, please don't get lost and come back soon!)

If your computer is equipped with PowerPoint, click on the PowerPoint icon to the right for a brief PowerPoint presentation on Diagramming Sentences. You can watch diagrams grow before your eyes.
Click HERE for help with Powerpoint.

For further information about diagramming, see Martha Kolln's Understanding English Grammar (4th Edition. MacMillan Publishing Company: New York. 1994) or Thomas Klammer and Muriel R. Schulz's Analyzing English Grammar (2nd Edition. Allyn & Bacon: Boston. 1996). The order of diagrams presented here is based on a similar project at America Online's homework and instructional reference area (Keyword: homework), but the sentences and diagrams are entirely our own. If you need help with the definitions of any of the terms or concepts listed here, refer to the Index.

If you have any suggestions (or corrections) for this page, please send them to Grammar English. Because of the graphics-rich nature of this endeavor, we cannot respond with help on diagramming questions beyond what is offered here.

The diagrams themselves are individually listed on another page (click the "enter button" below). Click on a phrase or clause type in the top frame, and the diagram will show up in the bottom frame. If you prefer to see the diagrams listed in two long documents, you can use the summaries listed below.

The Diagrams

Summaries
There are two single-document summaries of the diagrammed sentences. Since many graphics are involved, you may have to be patient for a complete download.
   Basic Sentence Parts, Phrase Configurations
   Sentence Types, Clause Configurations

   Pledge of Allegiance (by popular demand)

   Preamble to the U.S. Constitution (by popular demand)


ASK MR. LANGUAGE PERSON
Q. Please explain how to diagram a sentence.

A. First spread the sentence out on a clean, flat surface, such as an ironing board. Then, using a sharp pencil or X-Acto knife, locate the "predicate," which indicates where the action has taken place and is usually located directly behind the gills. For example, in the sentence: "LaMont never would of bit a forest ranger," the action probably took place in a forest. Thus your diagram would be shaped like a little tree with branches sticking out of it to indicate the locations of the various particles of speech, such as your gerunds, proverbs, adjutants, etc.

— Dave Barry      

 

Yes, we know. "Would of bit" is an unacceptable spelling of "would have bitten," but Mr. Language Person is not very bright and to change his spelling would be just plain sic.

Guide to Grammar and Writing