Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

How to Diagram a Simple Sentence

Like all forms of torture, diagramming should only be used when it is absolutely critical that you obtain a speedy confession from the sentence at hand and after all other attempts to determine a sentence’s meaning have failed.

1. Isolate the sentence from its peers and prepare a hard, flat line on which to work. Stainless steel is best because it is easy to clean.

2. Place the sentence on the line and sever the subject from the verb with a quick downstroke of your blade. Surgical scalpels, X-Acto knives, and machetes are all suitable for this procedure. This can be extremely painful for the subject as it will now have nothing to do or be, but with the two isolated, your work may end here if the sentence is especially simple.

3. Should you need to chop off a direct object, you’ll make another cut, but not as deep as the one used to sever subject from verb. Be aware that some verbs require direct objects and so you may find this takes a little extra effort. Use a saw if you must. Predicate adjectives are handled in a similar manner, but you’ll need to make an angled incision. Remember to cut with the grain and consider a reciprocating saw for this.

4. Indirect objects must be handled separately, and you’ll need a second line with a tether to the severed verb. You can use a hammer to break the indirect object away from the verb and then then pull it away from the main sentence onto a separate line. The value of this is primarily psychological as it allows the rest of the sentence to see itself stretched across the page in a most horrific way.

5. Prepositional phrases will be broken off like indirect objects, but you’ll use the preposition itself to create the tether between the main line and the line on which you place the object of the preposition. Again, the effect here is mainly psychological, but your sentence should be singing by now.

6. Adjectives and adverbs, like fingers and toes, are not truly necessary to a sentence’s survival,  and they can be removed easily, a procedure that will sometimes help the sentence reveal its secrets. Use a bolt cutter to remove the modifiers one at a time and place them on angled lines slanting off from the words they once modified. Placing them on the angle will allow the lifeblood of the sentence to drain away with a minimum of effort of your part.

Once the sentence is taken apart, you should have your confession. Remember, it is not usually necessary to torture a sentence. If you find yourself doing this for fun, rather than of necessity, please seek help from a certified dark language arts teacher.

2 Comments

  1. I vividly remember your first lesson on this… at the old middle school, in that little classroom at the end of the hall! We were so confused at first, but it just clicked! I remember our frustration and how you guided us to figure it out. You’re a great teacher!

    I just read your post on your writing process, and it’s a lot like what you inspired in us. Some of the things I hold most precious in life are the journals from our freewrites in your class. It could be a picture prompt, or a phrase, or about something we were learning at the time, but it was always a little deeper than that. While they don’t always make much sense, it gives great insight to what life was like during that time. I’m not sure why I wrote some of the things I did, “They just came to me”. You were alway a great inspiration to us and I appreciate you giving us the tools to express ourselves through our writing. If only there were more teachers like you! Thanks again.

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