The Lost Art of Sentence Diagramming, Plus a Few Examples

This article was written by Lorraine Berry and originally appeared on Signature Reads.   Every now and then, my Facebook friends will have a nostalgia moment and post a cultural artifact from our cohort’s past. One television staple from the 1970s that we remember with affection was the educational videos that were shown as commercial breaks during Saturday morning cartoons. “Schoolhouse Rock” debuted in January 1973 on ABC. The first season was devoted to teaching children the basics of mathematics. The second season, which started in September of that year, took on the challenges of grammar, focusing much of its attention to the parsing of sentences. I admit that when I encounter certain words for parts of speech, I still hear the lyrics. And when I am copy editing, those song lyrics have actually helped me do my job. For example, “Interjections show excitement or emotion and are generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong,” and “Conjunction junction: what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses,” both set to memorable tunes, have saved me from bone-head errors. (Though not all, as my editors can affirm.) When “Constitution Rock” debuted two years later, it helped me to succeed in seventh-grade social studies. I still remember that the test asked us to write the words to the Preamble; I heard nearly everyone in class singing the song as we wrote the words.
I mention how valuable these learning tools were because another of my favorite ways of approaching language has been turned into a creative work of art. Call Me Ishmael is a collection of postcards that illustrate the opening lines from great works of literature through sentence diagrams. I loved those days in class that we spent diagramming sentences. And while sentence diagrams may have been declared as having “no educational value,” I would argue that they impressed on your memory how the different parts of speech operated in sentence construction. Sentence diagramming is a means by which a sentence is parsed and represented by a structure of lines that establish the relationship among the words in the sentence. Perhaps the best way to envision it is as a “map” of a sentence. In 1847, Stephen Watkins Clark published a book in which he showed a sentence map as a series of bubbles. His rendering looked inelegant, and in 1877, Reid and Kellogg changed the bubbles to a series of lines. (For a detailed history of the various types of sentence diagrams, go here.) The Reid-Kellogg system was adopted by school districts across the country and for decades afterward, schoolchildren were drilled on parts of speech through the construction of diagrams. To demonstrate how to diagram sentences, consider the following examples. (For further information on sentence diagramming, see these directions.) The beginning of a diagram is the straight line. The first objective is to establish the subject and the predicate, that is, who is doing the action and the action being performed. Draw a line between the noun and the verb, as I have done with this simple sentence comprising a noun and a verb.

Sergio Agüero scores.

On the left subject side is “Sergio Agüero.” On the right is “scores.”

The verb, to score, can act as an intransitive verb that needs no object to which to do the action, or it can function as a transitive verb, where the verb takes an object to which the action is done. So, if we change the sentence to “Sergio Agüero scores goals,” it can be diagrammed with the straight line, with a second vertical line placed after the verb. The direct object is on the same line as the noun and the verb. Diagrams become more complicated with the addition of words that modify other words in the sentence. Adjectives modify nouns, so in order to indicate an adjective that is modifying the subject, draw a diagonal line and write the adjective(s) on the diagonal line(s). Possessives act like adjectives and are indicated in the same way. On the predicate side, if adjectives are used to describe the direct object, draw diagonal lines to indicate those adjectives below that part of the diagram.

Manchester City’s brilliant Sergio Agüero scores many creative goals.

Here, “Manchester City” is the possessive. “Brilliant” is the adjective. And “goals” is the direct object of the verb, which itself is described by the two adjectives “many” and “creative.” When constructing sentences with direct objects, the item to which the action is being done may itself be affected by whether another person is also interacting with the object. For example, “You may give a gift to your friend,” in which “gift” is the direct object that is being given to “friend,” which functions as the indirect object. Thus the verb “to give” takes both a direct object and an indirect object. The indirect object would be shown on a sentence diagram by a diagonal line coming off the verb. Sometimes, rather than an indirect object, however, that action may be further modified through the use of a preposition. It is a modification of the verb. For example, in modifying this sentence, observe what the preposition is doing:

Manchester City’s brilliant Sergio Agüero scores many creative goals against other Premier League teams.

Here, the preposition “against” modifies the verb by indicating that the action is done to something, but it has an impact on the verb through what is called the “prepositional phrase.” To indicate a prepositional phrase, write a diagonal line off the verb with the word “against” on it. The object of the prepositional phrase is “teams,” and the adjectives that describe teams are the adjectives “Premier League” and “other.” Sentences can also contain more than one subject, or there can be more than one verb. I looked to literature for an example of a more complex sentence, one that I must admit took me a while to break down so that I understood how each word was functioning within this sentence from P.D. James’s The Children of Men

Western science and Western medicine haven’t prepared us for the magnitude and humiliation of this ultimate failure.

Here there are two subjects — Western science and Western medicine — and two objects of prepositions, which themselves have a prepositional phrase that modifies them. Consider this diagram of the way I parsed James’ sentence. To diagram this sentence, I used a dotted line to indicate the conjunction — “and” — that connects the two nouns. The verb is followed by a direct object. The prepositional phrase that begins with the preposition “for,” has a double object of the phrase with “the magnitude and the humiliation.” Again, a dotted line is used to indicate the conjunction. That prepositional phrase is itself modified by the prepositional phrase “of this ultimate failure,” which is diagrammed by drawing a diagonal line off the double object. Sentences can be further complicated with the addition of subordinate clauses, independent clauses that are connected with conjunctions or punctuation, or declarative sentences and multiple other examples where some part of the sentence is unspoken. And the more complex the sentence, the more complex and beautiful the diagram that maps the sentence. It’s why Call Me Ishmael’s collection of postcards, which contain the opening sentences from twenty-four great works of literature, make a great gift for language lovers. The sentences themselves are revered for the beauty of their construction, choice of words, and rhythm created when they are read out loud. Seeing them as multi-layered diagrams becomes another way to appreciate the geniuses behind the words.

Congratulations to Our 2018 Man Booker Prize Longlisters

The Man Booker Prize is one of the most influential annual international literary fiction honors, open to writers of any nationality, writing in English. Congratulations to these six books published by Penguin Random House for making the longlist! The longlist includes 13 total titles published in the UK and Ireland between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018.   Learn more about our six books in the running:  

Michael Ondaatje’s THE ENGLISH PATIENT Wins the Golden Man Booker Prize

Penguin Random House author Michael Ondaatje has won the Golden Man Booker Prize for his classic novel THE ENGLISH PATIENT.  This one-time prize was awarded for the best work of fiction from the last five decades of The Man Booker Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious annual fiction awards, as chosen by five judges, and then voted on by the public.  Upon receiving the news, Mr. Ondaatje said, “I am honored as well as very surprised to receive this award for THE ENGLISH PATIENT, as I was to be in the company of the other remarkable nominees. It feels the book was written so long ago! I would like to thank all who have supported me and been involved in my work over the years.”

Ondaatje, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Vintage and Everyman’s Library in the U.S., and McClelland & Stewart in Canada, has written several award-winning novels, as well as a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. His latest novel, WARLIGHT, was published earlier this year by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and McClelland & Stewart in Canada.  Born in Sri Lanka, Ondaatje currently lives in Toronto. Read his works here.

Penguin Random House at the Bronx Book Fair

Volunteers from across Penguin Random House participated in the Bronx Book Fair on May 5th. It was a jam-packed day of events at the Bronx Library Center, with speakers such as Noëlle Santos from The Lit. Bar, as well as coaching sessions with local writers and book sales from community bookstore Word Up.  This was the first year Penguin Random House participated in the Bronx Book Fair, and we had a tremendous response to the call for volunteers!  We were so impressed by the enthusiasm and support of our employee volunteers. Here is what some of the volunteers had to say:
 “It was great to see so many PRH employees show up excited to help their fellow book lovers!” “Everywhere I turned at the Bronx Book Fair, there was passion–passion in the speakers, whose wealth of knowledge included everything from copyright law to fostering women’s leadership; passion in the authors, booksellers, and publishers reading from their work and selling books at their booths; and passion in the event staff, whose beaming faces were #BronxProud. It was such an honor to see the rich literary culture of the Bronx in action beyond the classroom where I used to teach ELA in the Bronx, and I especially loved the slam poetry and spoken word presentation by Project X–it’s heartwarming to see the youth shine a light on their fellow artists in their community!” “The Bronx Book Fair was wonderful–the event organizers were lovely, and the day’s events and panels were organized with great care. I welcomed the opportunity to get to know colleagues across other departments who I normally wouldn’t connect with in my day-to-day. A personal highlight was the chance to chat with young readers/writers who came to check out the book fair–their enthusiasm was infectious!”
The Bronx Book Fair is dedicated to engaging and growing the community of poets and writers in the Bronx, and to connecting to readers and book lovers of all ages. Launched in 2013, The Bronx Book Fair, along with Bronx Book Festival and The Lit. Bar bookstore, are contributing to revitalizing book culture in the Bronx, needed especially after the 2016 closure of the Baychester Barnes & Noble.

Read an Excerpt From Markus Zusak’s New Novel

An exclusive excerpt from Markus Zusak’s new novel, Bridge of Clay, is now available in anticipation of the novel’s publication set for October 9, 2018. Read the excerpt at bridgeofclaybook.com/excerpt.html. Bridge of Clay is a breathtaking story following five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance. Markus Zusak is the masterful storyteller behind the extraordinary bestseller The Book Thief, which remains one of the most enduring stories of our time. Find out more and pre-order your copy at bridgeofclaybook.com.  

5 of Our Favorite Book Characters… in Stop-Motion

We all have book characters we love. Here are five that we love so much, we had to make stop-motion tributes. WARNING: some spoilers if you haven’t read the book!

  1) Claire Fraser (Outlander): Time-traveling British combat nurse, sassy Sassenach, and so much more.   2) Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice): Sensitive sister, brainy bookworm, and all-around awesome independent woman.  

3) Daenerys Targaryen (A Game of Thrones): AKA Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, and Breaker of Chains.

 

4) Mark Watney (The Martian): Why do we love astronaut Mark Watney? Hint: it’s more than just the form-fitting spacesuit.

 

5) Wade Watts (Ready Player One): Geeky, 80’s-loving, heroic, and often virtually simulated.

Markus Zusak’s New Novel

We’re excited to announce that Markus Zusak’s new novel, Bridge of Clay, will be published October 9, 2018. This breathtaking story follows five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance. Markus Zusak is the masterful storyteller behind the extraordinary bestseller The Book Thief, which remains one of the most enduring stories of our time. Find out more and pre-order your copy at bridgeofclaybook.com.

Michelle Obama Memoir Date Set for November 13

We’re happy to announce that Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, will be published November 13, 2018. In Becoming, Michelle Obama reflects and recounts the  experiences that have shaped her. From her Chicago upbringing, her time at the White House, and her role as mother and First Lady of the United States, she tells her personal story with wit and honesty. As First Lady, Michelle Obama was known for her powerful advocacy for women and girls, her health initiatives, and her leadership in creating one of the most inclusive White Houses in history. Said Mrs. Obama, “Writing Becoming has been a deeply personal experience. It has allowed me, for the very first time, the space to honestly reflect on the unexpected trajectory of my life. In this book, I talk about my roots and how a little girl from the South Side of Chicago found her voice and developed the strength to use it to empower others. I hope my journey inspires readers to find the courage to become whoever they aspire to be. I can’t wait to share my story.” At the time of publication, Mrs. Obama will embark on a U.S. and international book tour. Information about the book is available to consumers at www.becomingmichelleobama.com. Becoming will be published by Crown Publishing Group and available in 24 languages worldwide. Penguin Random House will donate one million books in the Obama’s family’s name to First Book, a nonprofit which provides new books to children in need in the U.S. and Canada.

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of Things Fall Apart

This year, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart. The novel, first published in 1958,  has been translated into 57 languages and has sold over 20 million copies. Things Fall Apart is the first book from The African Trilogy which tells the story of modern Nigeria over three generations, from first colonial contact to urban migration. Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) was a Nigerian novelist and poet who is admired as the father of modern African literature. He taught at Brown University and Bard College and was the recipient of the Nigerian National Merit Award and the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement. Toni Morrison spoke of his writings, “African literature is incomplete and unthinkable without the works of Chinua Achebe.”   Browse all the books included in The African Trilogy below:  

The 9 Best Books on Writing Memoir

This article was written by Meghan McCullough and originally appeared on Signature Reads. The idea of writing your own story is a daunting one. At first, it may seem easy; after all, you know your own life better than anyone else, and who could be better equipped to tell the story of your life? But the act of putting pen to paper and actually beginning your own memoir is much harder than that. Where to begin? How to sift out the important things from the mundane? What if your writing upsets your loved ones? Or worse, what if no one cares enough to read it? The books listed below tackle all of those questions and more. From inspiration that’ll get you started to practical tips as you make your way through your first draft, these books will get you remembering and writing your memoir in no time.