Drawing Sentences? Don’t Cringe – Try It!

Most people are satisfied just to know the difference between a noun and a verb, never mind the identity and function of such things as nominative pronouns, superlative verbs, adjectival clauses, or the dreaded participles. Yet, anyone who writes for a living (whether in an office producing reports and memos or in one’s pajamas sitting at a home computer) ought to be able to identify the main parts of language and their functions.

Grammar is taking a beating these days because of the profligate computer that proliferates “books” written by those who shrug off the importance of grammar. Simultaneously, grammar has become a hot topic. School teachers are looking for better ways to teach the subject; newcomers to this country are seeking help to learn this crazy American English language; writers of self-published books are learning the need to write well before printing; and children are discovering the challenge and, dare I say, the fun, of drawing pictures of sentences.

Sentence pictures! They used to be called “diagramming” or “parsing” and were dreaded by all school children. Now – possibly due to the increase in home schooling – the fun of working out the functions of words by drawing pictures is being discovered by eager students at all levels.

Remember? “Draw a flat line and dissect it to show Subject and Predicate. Then add the branches that show modifiers, phrases and clauses.” Ah, just like working on a sudoku puzzle with words.

The funny thing is that the end result isn’t the valuable part of drawing pictures. It’s the actual process of taking a sentence apart and putting it back together again. Anyone with a compulsion of adventure and a desire to write more effectively can pick up the basics easily. Whether or not you continue deeper into the weird world of grammar’s insider terminology becomes your choice.

Like most kids, when I learned to diagram back in the golden age of parsing, I hated it. It didn’t make any sense to me – mostly because I didn’t understand the meaning of words such as petty participle, adverbial modifier, controversial conjunction, interrogatory pronoun, or gerund. Now, as a grownup, after years of figuring out most of the grammar functions by myself in the course of writing for a living, the diagramming makes a whole lot of sense. (Take that sentence apart; I dare you!)

If you were one of those kids who hated diagramming, take another look at it through grownup eyes. I believe you’ll find it as much fun as playing Scrabble or working out a sudoku or crossword puzzle. Plus, you’ll celebrate the success of catching on – and the next thing you write will be put together clearer and easier. That’s a promise!

Copyright ©2005 Val Dumond

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About Val Dumond

VAL DUMOND is a writer who is enamored with words and putting them together to tell stories. Trained as a journalist, she also managed an advertising agency and public relations business. She has taught writing classes for many years and now focuses on her own writing, editing for other writers, and helping writers publish their books. She owns Muddy Puddle Press, where most of her books are published. Her favorite writing theme is historical fiction: She has done what-ifs for Klondike Kate — Queen of the Yukon, and the unlucky pilot who in 1933 tried and failed to be the first to fly solo across the Pacific. She also did a what-if about the status of women at a bank where she once was overworked and underpaid. (Kate received a new love interest at the age of 70; the pilot received a second chance at his heart's desire 50 years later; and the women of the bank rebelled enough to improve their wages and place women on the Board of Directors.) See: SUGAR, SPICE, AND STONE; WHEN ROOSTERS FLY; and A LITTLE REBELLION…. But Val's grammar books are the ones that draw attention. Her latest, AMERICAN-ENGLISH—The Official Guide (written for writers), is a culmination of five other books about language she has written. This new book urges writers to develop their own writing style by creating their own Style Manual, composed of preferences among the many choices that American-English provides. In it, she uses examples of uses for the various parts of language and punctuation, sets aside a section that's full of writing tips, includes a glossary and index for easy access to language solutions.
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