Why I Love Diagramming

I admit it. I LOVE diagramming sentences. I first fell in love with this activity in fifth grade when my teacher, Mrs. White, taught us how to take sentences apart and plug them into a chart. “Today we’re going to learn about the parts of a sentence,” she said and proceeded to bisect the chalk board with a white base line and plug in parts of a sentence at lightning speed. Subject, predicate, object. Bam! I was mesmerized. Finally something at this school–heck, the world–made sense to me. And I was GOOD at it! This was a nice change for me since I struggled in math and was too embarrassed to ask for help.

For those of you who don’t share my passion, here’s a basic review of diagramming. Main words (subject | predicate/verb | object) go in slots on the base line, and supporting words (articles, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions) sit on diagonal lines beneath the words they modify. In other words: every word has a place. The purpose of diagramming is to teach the parts of speech and to show how words work in concert to make thoughtful sentences.

For people like me who thrive on order, diagramming sentences in grade school was a way to organize my thoughts properly. Taking sentences apart taught me how to select just the right word and place it in just the right place to pull together a sentence, and ultimately, a thought.

How do I use this skill today?

Obviously I write, but that’s not the best skill I learned from diagramming sentences. I learned that

  • The verb is the most powerful part of speech because it’s the only one that can stand alone and still have a complete thought. For example, “Run!” has the implied subject of “you.”
  • Sentences are easier to write–and comprehend–when you keep the doer (subject) and the action (verb) as close together as possible. For example, “In the event of inclement weather, the clinic may be closed, so with this possibility in mind a staff meeting, which everyone is required to attend, is scheduled for January 14.” This sentence is confusing and redundant. A clearer example keeps the subject (“We”) and the action verb (“will hold”) together: “We will hold a short staff meeting on January 14 to discuss the inclement weather policy.”
  • Passive voice sentences are hard to diagram, and sometimes hard to understand. Passive voice is when it’s not clear who’s doing the action in a sentence. For example, “The door was closed by Richard,” is passive because the doer (Richard) is stuck at the end of the sentence. Instead write: “Richard closed the door.” It uses fewer words and makes more sense.

What’s the most important grammar lesson you learned in grade school?


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