It seems, however, that not all people (even in my age group) were taught this occasionally challenging but definitely enlightening sentence-structure tool. In the 1980s, when I spent several years working in the language arts departments of five elementary, middle, and high schools, I found even teachers seemed to have little understanding of its practicality in helping students to recognize parts of speech. This puzzled me. Is not a picture worth a thousand words?
I decided to explore why the ability to diagram a sentence can be a valuable tool for both writers and editors. My first thought was to include examples. Unfortunately, my lack of expertise left me befuddled about how to create and incorporate the necessary graphics into this article and unsure whether copying and pasting them off the Internet might be an infringement of copyright. But don’t despair — I’ll make sure to give you appropriate links.
Sentences that work are essential elements of good writing. Knowing the parts of speech helps us use words most effectively to create sentences that touch our readers and pull them into our stories. This builds our fan base — as well as being beneficial if we are editing someone else’s work, especially when we need to teach them to create great sentences to make their work more marketable. Can that happen if we don’t know the difference between an adjective and an adverb? a conjunction and a preposition? Of course it can. On the other hand, knowing how and why language works is a distinct benefit, whether we use it in our own writing or to help someone else with his or hers, because it allows us to employ language in the best way possible to accomplish our purpose.
Here are some examples of building sentences to create more vivid word pictures. Different parts of speech have been added to create depth, tone, heart, and texture. Note that the original ambiguous mind picture has been developed into a sharp vision of a specific scene.
Little children play.
Little children play in the dirt.
Little children play in the dirt at the city dump.
Little children dressed in rags play in the dirt at the city dump.
Diagramming each of these sentences would create a grammatical roadmap to help us understand how different parts of speech work to build more effective writing. Check out the links below and then tell me whether you believe that understanding sentence structure and word usage would help you improve your writing. The third link, from the New York Times, is particularly enlightening. Its complex example from a Henry James work is a great eye-opener for those of us who love to expound in long, complicated sentences.
Diagramming Sentences (Capital Community College Foundation)
Taming Sentences (New York Times Opinionator)