Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 11, 2017

I Simply Have to Write About This: A Sentence Diagramming App

This is too perfect to pass up; it’s just too Much. I’ve had it. This is the living end.

Some of you may have learned to diagram sentences. It’s a graphical way to analyze the structure (grammar) of sentence. It is a teaching tool. Like this:

diagram Brad Nixon 3011 640

That diagram demonstrates the basic form: the subject on the left, separated by a vertical line from the verb, then another line above the horizontal line for the object, with two modifying words: the article and and an adjective. The slanted line between “is” and “tool” indicates the relationship created by the verb of being, sometimes called a linking verb.

To be entirely accurate, we need to revise that diagram to reflect the fact that “teaching” is a gerund — a verb form acting as a noun, in this case, adjectivally. The gerund diagram is one of the very doinkiest:

diagram Brad Nixon 3012 640

No wonder most kids stumble or doze through the diagramming sentences part of their English classes, eh?

Diagramming has its uses. For example, if one is reading particularly complex sentences, diagramming can assist in sorting out dependent from independent clauses, compound subjects or parallel actions, intermediating phrases, and so forth. I occasionally resorted to it when I was reading Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu.

When I started thinking about diagramming as the subject for a blog post, it occurred to me that there must be apps that robotically parse and diagram sentences now.

Sure enough, an online search revealed plenty of diagramming apps. I checked a couple of them out. The first app that popped up (promoted by an ad, natch), had a website so poorly constructed and unreadable that I bailed out in 30 seconds. That company paid Google to promote it, but they should’ve paid someone to write their web copy for them.

Then the second one: readable — at least if you’re accustomed to reading technical documentation composed by non-native speakers of English — but barely.

Here are the features of the app, as represented on the website. I quote:

Sentence a grammatical unit of several words, and provides a narrative, question, comment, etc. It begins with a capital letter and ends with proper punctuation. 

  • Sentence diagram intend for illustrating of sentence parts.
  • The diagram has best value for visual organizers and satisfy all needs for analysis.
  • A grammar study will help students see more clearly of how concrete sentence is organized.
  • Sentence diagrams are clear to everyone graphic material for sharing projects.

The mind reels.

If you were looking for a language tool in which you’d place confidence, would you trust the developers of this app to diagram your English language sentence?

It seems to me that some familiarity with basic English sentences, however rudimentary, should be in evidence. You know, those boring old things: Sentences require both a verb and and a noun, verbs and nouns should agree regarding number, that sort of thing.

Not those dudes.

That’s all for today. I simply had to share.

Were you taught sentence diagramming in school, in any language? I’d genuinely love to hear from you, especially from you many readers not in the United States, or who command languages other than English. Leave a comment. Thank you.

For more posts about language and grammar, see the “Language” category in the right column.

If you liked this post, you may enjoy “We” Will Rock You! (In First Person Plural Clusive)

Thanks to reader Godlovesalcohol for pointing out an inaccuracy in an earlier version of this post.

© Brad Nixon 2018, 2019



  1. Not only was I not taught them, I’ve never heard of them. Not sure I’m any happier as a result of knowing about them now. I’d be interested to see what a diagram looks like for a particularly complex sentence (sadistically, the final sentence of Ulysses comes to mind), but then I’d probably try and forget all about them…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nick, Google Proust longest sentence diagram. The most notorious example. More to say later. Thank you.


    • Our former bandmate, Bill, writes from Australia that neither he nor his wife — both are teachers — has ever dealt with it, either. Maybe strictly an American aberration.


  2. I remember being first taught this tool in fourth grade. I really enjoyed doing it. I’m the structural type; I like order.

    Prior to fourth grade, I was a mediocre English student at best. At some point during, and then routinely after, fourth grade, I became an “A” student. I went on to become news editor of my high school paper (that won state awards), an English major in college, and a law school graduate.

    I attribute a great deal of this dramatic reversal of my fortune to my fourth grade teacher Miss Johnson, who was not simply a teacher, but an exceptional teacher and person. But learning how to diagram and understand sentence structure may certainly have played a role as well.


    • Rare is the individual who excels without at least one sterling teacher, somewhere along the line. Hooray for Miss Johnson, and all her peers.


  3. I thought ‘to be’ + ‘noun, pronoun, or adjective’ is separated by \ not a |. Subject complement, right? Not trying to troll.


    • Thank you. No, you’re not trolling, you’re correcting. I appreciate it. Yes, you’re correct. I relied on memory for something I should’ve checked. I’ll make the correction. Thanks for reading, and thank you for contacting me. blaknissan

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating. Never even knew such a subject as “sentence diagramming” existed. Might have to learn this before tackling Proust in French.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It may be that those of you with enough mastery of French to read M. Proust’s actual words, not in translation, have a clearer path to following his inimitable sentences. Bon chance!

      Liked by 1 person

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  7. We spent some time on diagramming sentences, I think perhaps in more than one grade, when I went to high school in the 1960s. I loved it. I thought and still think it was helpful. The teacher handed out a guide… written by one of the other teachers, and reproduced in purple on a Ditto machine (spirit duplicator). It ended on the last page with a diagram of sentence from “Silas Marner:” “So, year after year, Silas Marner had lived in this solitude, his guineas rising in the iron pot, and his life narrowing and hardening itself more and more into a mere pulsation of desire and satisfaction that had no relation to any other being.” It was really cool.

    Liked by 1 person

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