For a long time, sentence diagramming flourished throughout the American school system, and, despite being condemned as a useless waste of time in the 1970s, it still persists in many schools. Indeed, it spread well beyond the USA, and so a very similar system is taught in many European countries (though not, alas, in the United Kingdom). For example, schools in the Czech Republic teach sentence diagramming so successfully that researchers are investigating the possibility of including school children’s analyses in a working tree-bank of analyzed sentences.
I learned sentence diagramming when I attended Catholic elementary school, but I doubt any local schools are using it today.
What Diagramming Teaches Us
When Joseph R. Mallon Jr. bumps up against a complex problem, he thinks back to a lesson he learned in high school from the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
The Philadelphia-area school’s Catholic nuns taught him the art of diagramming a sentence. Once all the parts of speech lined up, Mallon pulled clarity from the chaos. It’s a process he uses today to tackle tough issues as chief executive and chairman of Measurement Specialties Inc.
“Sit down quietly. Take (the issue) apart into its component parts. Make sure all the components fit together well. They’ve got to be well chosen, fit together and make sense. There are few (business) problems that can’t be solved that way, as dire as it might seem,” Mallon said. “Sentence diagramming is one of the best analytical techniques I ever learned.”
Investor’s Business Daily
17 October 2000
An online parser applied to one of my sentences generated this diagram:
Even with my foggy understanding, I can see how diagramming helps in learning parts of speech and syntax. The online tool is interactive, and provides parts of speech terminology for every word in the sentence. It makes some mistakes, but it looks like a neat tool to use for reviewing sentence structure. Unfortunately it does not accept pasted text.