October 23, 2006

Teaching grammar.

That it's being done at all is front page news:
The National Council of Teachers of English, whose directives shape curriculum decisions nationwide, has quietly reversed its long opposition to grammar drills, which the group had condemned in 1985 as "a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing."

Now, even the sentence diagram, long the symbol of abandoned methodology, is allowed...

Ooh! Sentence diagramming! I approve!


Gahrie said...

My first job as a teacher was to teach Language Arts/Social Studies cores at the middle school level. (I am a Government teacher by training)

I was amazed to be roundly criticized by my administrator and fellow teachers for teaching sentence diagraming. (This was in 1996) I was even more amazed to discover that I was the only language Arts teacher to know how, and why to teach sentence diagraming.

Those same teachers still complain about the fact that their students don't know the parts of speech, or how to write complete sentences in the 7th and 8th grade. ( I no longer teach Language Arts for some reason....)

Maxine Weiss said...

No no no no NO!

Nobody learns grammar by diagraming. The drudgery of that. It's so tedious.

You wanna know the best way to teach English Grammar?

Foreign Language. Mastering the grammar rules, tenses, verb conjugation.. of a foreign language---and you can't help but to sharpen your English skills.

That, and just basic reading.

Peace, Maxine

Seven Machos said...

Sentence-diagramming makes people better writers. It certainly made me better, even though I hated the process.

And foreign language? You must be kidding. Yeah, kids don't know what a clause is or what a preposition is. (Freaking GMAT-takers don't know what a preposition is, by the way.) But, anyway, here is some Spanish. Or here is some Mandarin Chinese. The best way to learn a foreign language is actually to just start talking, and memorizing words.

A really good way to learn how to be a good writer is to diagram sentences.

By the way, all this goes to a central tenet I maintain: there is nothing that is more bullshit than a new theory of education. There is and never will be anything new in education. And when you hear people talking about "new math" or new ways to teach writing: run.

Wickedpinto said...

Let me be honest, my grammar sucks.

I think I have an easy cure for improving grammar among our youth. . . . Please, ride this out, it's not long, and I think it makes sense.

To Start, the kids should be familiar with language, that is reading. It is also writing. (birth - second grade)

Next, fundamentals of grammar, sentence diagraming. Start with the most simple grammatical form, then have the children write "creatively" or "originaly" in accordance with that simple form. Let them screw up the paragraphs all they want. (grade 3)

Creative writing, find a topic, or story, have the children author an original text consisting of only a few paragraphs at a time, then, in context of the original text, teach them the broader mechanics of proper grammar. (grade 4-the end of your life)

My grammar sucks, because I was bored until I no longer had excrement during english classes, then, when classes became interesting, I had forgotten all of the things that I ignored in grade school.

Sound un-reasonable? Or am I begging for a third grade teacher?

Dean Esmay said...

I hated sentence diagramming and can honestly say I learned nothing at all from it. What makes a good writer is regular reading and regular writing.

Wickedpinto said...

Also, if there are any hot, large breasted 3rd grade teachers available, you can teach me grammar has long as hard, and as often as you please. (Hot is a requirement, familiarity with grammar is optional)

Wickedpinto said...

Dean, I think the point is that while diagraming a sentence, with the different phrases and jack makes you more familiar with the tools.

The diagramming itself is insignificant, but it is a method for understanding the tools that are available to the writer.

Just like you say about reading and writing, only rather than learning contextualy, you are learning syntaxualy.

I like the idea of diagraming, because, I was an electronics tech, and good luck fixing something with just a diagram without understanding ohms law.

In that way, I appreciate it.

Seven Machos said...

Wicked Pinto makes a great point. Diagramming is simply a way to teach the theory of writing English sentences. This idea of teaching through creative writing -- that if you give a pencil and the proper feel-good motivation then you are turning loose the next Shakespeare -- is completely stupid.

It would be a lot like asking to to do the wiring for my apartment by giving me some wires and a wrench good pep talk. Maybe it will work out. But probably I will fail on a massive scale.

Wickedpinto said...

Seven Machos?

When I was taking Japanese in Okinawa, I had a rather large vocabulary for how new my practice was. I was taking a second course, and my roommate asked for my notes from my first course, so that he could have a leg up, after all (wickedpinto) was the go to barracks guy for japanese (completely unfounded reputation by the way) so I gave him my notes, about 5 notebooks from a 2 month course.

He started to read my notes and said "NO FAIR! You know English"

My response? "No S@#$? I certainly don't practice it."

It was a laugh because I had a habit of sticking my foot in my mouth while wearing the uniform.

Joan said...

The more I hear these wacky news stories the more I love the curriculum at my kids' (charter) school.

In second grade, they learn basic editing, including proof reader's marks. They have daily work which includes editing sentences for punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. Of course the sentences are geared to their grade level, but I know a lot of adults who would struggle with that work.

They start diagramming sentences in third grade.

Starting in kindegarden, they keep journals for creative writing -- no need for correct grammar or spelling, just keep the thoughts flowing. Starting in second grade, they work on drafting, revising, and publishing shorter works -- some topics I've seen are "How I eat an Oreo" and "Why pizza is my favorite food."

They're learning things about grammar, logic, and structure that I didn't get until high school. It's very exciting. The kids like it, too. They love puzzles and enjoy being able to "decode" sentences. I think it's very cool that my 5-year-old knows about nouns, verbs, and adjectives already.

Take heart. It's not all bad out there.

Wickedpinto said...


you a third grade teacher?

Wickedpinto said...

I agree with the retardation of the "new" education concept, after all, it wasn't that long ago, that to attend what we now call highschool, required a rudimentary understanding of LATIN!

Maybe we should stop with the new, and return to the old.

Not that long ago, (100years or so) you needed to understand latin to be a scientist, not that long ago, to be a military officer (French was a required pre-requisite for West Point (since all military manuals were written/translated originaly in french) and not that long ago, greek was a mandatory requirement for history/literature)

Kids who were the same age I was when I first read "great expectations" were already speaking at least one other "exotic" language, at least in a basic form.

Liberalism has succeeded in making us stupid.

Daryl Herbert said...

It would be a lot like asking to to do the wiring for my apartment by giving me some wires and a wrench good pep talk.

Once a week, set you loose to do some wiring. Then afterwards, critique it, show you your mistakes, tell you what you could have done better, and give you some new ideas.

Yeah, that's totally crazy. You'd never learn how to wire anything.

Wickedpinto said...


You would burn down houses, thats whats crazy.

Now, if you had depicted it as "once a week let a student do the wiring, and before hooking it up to power, correct them, and show them their errors" thats different.

But your hypothetical means a lot of burned up houses, and some dead people.

dave said...

Greenwald really kicked your ass, didn't he, you blithering fucking idiot?

You're toast lady - a joke, a well-known joke, and don't you ever fucking think otherwise.

Wickedpinto said...

Criminy, I re-read, your comment Daryl.

Sorry, I was reading "critique" as "after the fact" rather than "correction of existing product"

Because, well,

My hypotheticals, and Sevens hypotheticals are EXACTLY in line with yours.

We were pointing out that, in english, what you do, is you allow children to EXCERCISE english, in the same way that electrictrician apprentices EXCERCISE electronics, only to be corrected.

WRITING is the "DO" grammar, and theory is the "GRAMMAR"

You were deriding myself and seven, while simultaneously agreeing with us.


Wickedpinto said...




Are you retarded?

Bruce Hayden said...

I like the idea of experimentation. But the problem with public education is that experiments like this one end up screwing up a half a generation or so - meaning probably tens of millions of innocent students.

Looking back, of course diagramming sentences is useful. So is learning your addition and multiplication tables.

I do agree that a foreign language is useful in understanding grammer. However, they are often taught from the point of view of how these languages differ from English, thus presupposing that the student already understands how this language was structured gramatically.

Another problem with learning English grammar through learning a foreign language is that many foreign languages are structured quite differently than English. My guess is that the closer a language is to Latin, the more its grammer translates into English (and, indeed, after Virgil and maybe Horace, English grammer is a snap).

Unknown said...


What up wit dis?


Why they teachin' us gramma?

Homey don't need no verbs. Homey be conjugatin' sweet up in here.

Fo shizzle.

Anonymous said...

The New Politically Correct Grammar:

Adjectives are the lard that clogs free-flowing sentences. Shun them as you would sausages, Pringles, and Marshmallow Fluff.

Strong four-letter Anglo-Saxon action verbs with Latin roots are the backbone of our "English" language. We also have many equally good verbs that come to us from all the nations, races, and cultures of the world.

Nouns are the subjects and objects of sentences. They act and are acted upon, but only after submitting to full and final judicious review.

Just because some nouns are called proper nouns does not mean that the rest are in any way improper.

Adverbs are parts of speech, too. We must not neglect, bully, or discriminate against them. Mainstream them into the flow of your sentences. By the same token, subordinate clauses deserve our respect, as well.

Prefixes and suffixes go both ways. Without them our sentences would be far less flamboyant. A hint of pizzazz is wonderful. Marry them to your words, and you'll be much more civilized.

Indefinite articles deserve our full respect only when they are written in a final draft. It's okay to abort their use in the first of your three drafts. They're just little bits of letters anyway.

goesh said...

-very impressive cirriculum, Joan. Hope floats. I recall tutoring a fellow his first semester in college and he could not compose a sentence. He had been passed through the grades because he was a talented athlete.

MadisonMan said...

I remember the Diagramming is Worthless textbook from 10th (9th?) grade. Even after recognizing the different clauses (easy), we had to figure out the specific diagramming architecture to represent them (hard). So part of it is a waste of time.

Dave said...

I recall diagramming sentences once, in the seventh grade, and didn't really see its utility.


I grew up reading, was born to well-educated parents and grandparents who spoke English natively and grammatically correctly, and, too, I was constantly corrected when I spoke improper English ("You're doing well, not good" etc.)

Diagramming sentences is likely a useful activity. However, it is meaningless if the people around whom the child spends most of his time are themselves ill-spoken.

KCFleming said...

The Education Utopians have been messing up the teaching profession since Dewey was around.

So now they've rediscovered grammar. Woot. Can the rediscovery of discipline and civics be far behind?

And you can thank the homeschoolers for this trend.

Ann Althouse said...

Is there a computer program that automatically produces a diagram of a sentence? I'd like to see that. Visualizing structure -- it's good. Kids should learn to be analytical.

But it's a poor substitute for learning grammar the easy way, which is NOT by reading a lot. It's by hearing grammatical speech spoken to you long before you go to school. Kids who speak bad grammar are doing a perfectly good job of talking like the adults in their lives. It's a real disadvantage to start from. Good grammar should just feel right, and it's not going to be easy for them to get that feeling.

Anderson said...

Excellent. Maybe more people will be able to read Glenn Greenwald now, instead of humiliating themselves with inane blog posts about how his sentences are supposedly too unpleasant to read.

Or, heck, I'd settle for a blog post that actually used some o' that sentence-diagrammin' savvy to *illustrate* what's wrong with GG's prose, instead of simply unpacking some adjectives.

michael farris said...

I remember diagramming sentences, or rather I remember my teacher doing a lot of diagramming that made no sense to me (or most people in the classroom).

There's a big problem in that what's taught as traditional English grammar is crap (really, there's no nicer word for it). There's lots of complicated reasons for this, mostly having to do with the social context that the first formal grammars of English were written in.

Without getting into specifics, the result is that trying to teach English grammar according to the traditional rules makes no sense. On the other hand, certain traditionalists will fight anything more modern and/or reasonable tooth and nail. This ugly impass led to grammar being dropped from the curriculum and just bringing back sentence diagramming in a vacuum won't accomplish anything good.

IME the grammar explanation in English as a second language courses is far more accurate and reasonable than nonsense 'rules' like "don't split infinitives", "don't end a sentence with a preposition" or "don't begin a sentence with 'hopefully'".

Good foreign language education will also do a lot to educate students about grammar (hint: it used to be called 'grammar school' because foreign languages were some of the main subjects). Learning Spanish was a huge help to me in bringing my unconscious knowledge of English grammar up to the level of consciousness.

Also, native English speaking children have flawless mastery of English grammar, what they need to learn in school is how to make their unconscious knowledge conscious and how to modify their language use in specific situations.

bearing said...

You're welcome.

KCFleming said...

Re: "Maybe more people will be able to read Glenn Greenwald now"

It'd be easier to read civet scat than retrieve meaning from the gaping maw of a Greewald post.

Mr. Anderson, it's past time you learned that obscurant verbosity is no mark of intelligence, but of sloppy thinking, if thinking is involved at all.

David said...

I feel safe in saying that most people who speak english are funtioning illiterates. It is my experience that most people cannot write a page of english prose without making at least one grammatical, punctuation, and spelling error.

Sentence diagramming is key to written expression and clear speech. It was taken away years ago and reached the nadir of absurdity when the teaching of eubonics was briefly popular.

English is the coin of the realm. Especially in the business world.

Sidebar; Most writing on the internet should be considered a rough draft or first draft!

Palladian said...

"Because it's full of things that are only correct because they're grammatical but they're tough on the ear. This is a very wearying one, it's unpleasant to read. Unrewarding."

Anderson's got a beagle as a profile picture. Hmmmm...

I'm not suggesting that Anderson is Sullivan or anything. He could simply be one of Greenwald's little friends...

Bruce Kratofil said...

"Sentence diagramming, I approve of"


Shanna said...

I think diagramming sentences helps you visualize language in a different way. The knowledge of where to draw all the lines is not helpful for actual writing, but I don’t think there is a better way of teaching how to actually put a sentence together.

I also think language skills should be taught in elementary school, not only because that is the time to teach language, while the mind is most prepared to learn it, but also because it aids in making English grammar rules make sense. When I took French in high school, my understanding of English grammar just clicked. If your family conjugates verbs correctly you generally do as well without thinking about why. French made me think about why.

The article talks a lot about how they stopped teaching grammar and makes me glad I attended a private school K-6, because I definitely learned grammar, even if I have forgotten some of it since then. I knew enough to tell my coworkers that “it’s” means “it is” and be horrified that they didn’t know that (they are significantly older than me and should have been taught grammar so I don’t know what their excuse is). They didn’t believe me either and had to get a second opinion. Can you imagine? But the same coworker uses the wrong verb tense without fail, so I don’t know why I’m surprised.

Maxine Weiss said...

Diagrams aren't relevant. People don't speak in diagrams, and they don't read in diagrams.

Kids that learn Latin have no problem with English.

Latin and German, learn those two, and you'll have to recognize parts of speech.

If you look at foreign language learning.....they don't use diagrams. Instead you are immersed in the language.

That's what needs to happen with English and native speakers: immerse them in usage, great speeches, reading, and rhetoric.

Not some weird diagram.

Peace, Maxine

Tibore said...

I don't know what the big objection to diagramming is, as long as the purpose behind doing so is understood. Like Joan said, once I understood that it was a way of decoding and analyzing sentences, I really started to rock out on it. Maxine's point about diagramming being tedious is valid, but I think much of the drudge results from a lack of teacher enthusiasm, as well as poor teaching skills. Once I got a really good teacher who was actually excited about taking sentences apart like that, diagramming became fun and challenging, not boring and tortuous.

Anyone wanna tackle Greenwalt's sentences from the earlier post?? :)


As an aside: dave (lower-case "d", impolite, Blogger ID 744940, the misanthrope with the stupid cat blog) is the master of drive-by snarking, but a poor example of content and substance. Perhaps if he’d endeavor to be something other than a (as he puts it) blithering f****** idiot himself, he wouldn’t come off as such a moron.

To be distinguished from dave, of course (also lower-case “d”, Blogger ID 2987898, but far more polite, constructive, and likeable).

Icepick said...

Maxine wrote: People don't speak in diagrams, and they don't read in diagrams.

You must not know any mathematicians.

Dave said...

"To be distinguished from dave, of course (also lower-case “d”, Blogger ID 2987898, but far more polite, constructive, and likeable)."

Me? Polite? Constructive? Likeable? Wow, I have to try harder...

Anonymous said...

French was a required pre-requisite for West Point (since all military manuals were written/translated originaly in french)

That must have been a long, long time ago....

Of course diagramming is important. You have to understand the underlying structure of a language to speak it properly.

And learning Spanish doesn't help one understand English; knowing English helps one learn Spanish. When you learn a foreign language, you learn the structure -- nouns, verbs, conjugation, etc. If you don't know what those things are in the first place, how can you learn another language?

Sure, you can pick up Spanish without studying the grammar, but then you speak bad Spanish. I am not a native speaker of Spanish, but I speak proper Spanish. I'll hear second-generation kids -- Cubans in Miami -- who have learned Spanish at home but never studied it in school -- who have the vocabulary but make horrible grammar errors. They don't speak good Spanish. They have never learned the grammar.

YAMB said...

Shanna writes:
I knew enough to tell my coworkers that “it’s” means “it is”

ok, great, but then she(?) follows that with:
they are significantly older than ME [not I, or better, I am]

I think it's so funny when people make grammatical errors in a post criticizing the mistakes of others!

YAMB said...

Oh, and Ann, living in Wisconsin doesn't the ever-present "shoulda went" or "woulda wrote" constantly grate on your ears? The joys of the irregular past participle.

knox said...

Thank god most of my teachers in grade school were from the old guard. I remember diagramming sentences and doing multiplication tables until it was all second nature. I'm baffled that these sorts of rigorous exercises were/are dismissed as worthless. I guess it's because of "complicated" theories about the social context that the first formal grammars of English were written in...

Sounds like the brilliant idea that classrooms were bad, and schools needed "teamrooms" instead. My grade school and junior high were both built at the time this theory was in vogue. By the time I was in college, they were remodeling both buildings to have single classrooms again... Seems having 100+ kids in one big room, with three teachers teaching three different subjects all at the same time was a little distracting. Duh.

I think it's clear that Education and Child Development "experts" just make shit up that sounds creative and exciting to them, and then implement it wholesale--without testing it first-- through the Department of Education. Then, as someone else noted, a whole generation of kids pays the price.

Caroline said...

They're only agreeing to teach grammar now because it's on the SAT and most likely there's been insane pressure from parents to prepare kids for this test.

Seven Machos said...

1. It may be that the SAT is driving changes in teaching grammar. (I have taught a lot of SAT courses and generally I am rabidly anti-SAT. Talk about a piece-of-shit concept in education.) However, the ACT contains immense amounts of grammar. Why would changing the SAT to contain grammar and writing drive a massive and immediate change?

2. Education at the primary and secondary school levels entirely consists of passing along basic information. It's a vital job but, by definition, it's not cutting edge. It never will be science or industry or business, or law or medicine, or even farming. But "educators" want to think they are real academics and professionals so they push theories in the way that real academics and professionals do. The results are disastrous at every turn.

How long have we had language? Twenty thousand years? Thirty thousand? Even if you are an ardent Bible-thumping creationist, you will admit that we have had language for about 6500 years. And, then, in the 1970s, some schmuck is going to come along with a radical, new way to teach this thing that has been taught for thousands of years? And they are going to teach this totally rules-oriented thing without teaching rules? How absurd is that?

It doesn't help that entire states and teachers' associations accept goofy radical changes wholesale and foist them on a generation of kids. Like it's fashion or something. You got some new idea how to teach? Great. Do a longitudinal study the way drug companies have to do a study, at one little private school, before you foist it on a bunch of unsuspecting grade-school kids. It's not like we don't have the time.

vnjagvet said...

When one many german sentences mastered, one's english grammar sometimes backwards became.

It might the structure differences have been.

Anthony said...

I'll have to agree that some diagramming is worthwhile. It eventually is of great assistance in writing clearly, making sure you know which noun your various verbs are relating to and so forth. It's not meant to make you diagram every sentence that you write in your head, but to give you a basic toolkit that you can use to ensure that your sentences actually make sense.

My main gripe with the "new education" has been the vilifying of anything like rote learning. The argument always ends up as something like "We want kids to think critically rather than just recite rules, etc." Problem is, however, that one cannot think critically about anything unless one first masters the basics in any discipline. All those names, dates, and multiplication tables are the basic currency of critical thinking. And that requires a certain amount of memorization.

Patrick J. Shea said...

Written language is fundamentally an analytical enterprise. Among its closest cognitive cousins are arithmetic and algebra. In a very real sense, the well-crafted prose sentence is a type of formula, and proper placement and choice of words and punctuation are critical to meaning and expression.

While the human mind is wonderfully adept at filling in the gaps to reconstruct meaning from the mishmash of noise that so often passes for speaking and writing, we ignore the importance of precise usage and grammar to the peril of our ideas. For a generation now, educators have rejected the importance of the analytical structure of language in favor of a focus on expression, but the expression has suffered in two ways.

I was lucky enough to have received rigorous grammar instruction in junior and senior high school (including diagramming sentences -- something I enjoyed). I also studied Latin (an almost exclusively written language that receives a rather more analytical treatment than modern languages, a treatment that aids English grammar). The result has been an advantage in the way I can express my ideas precisely, but I don't think the advantage ends there.

For better or worse, our minds are generally structured to think in the sort of language we use to interact with others. While precision in language is neither necessary nor sufficient to precision in thought, it is a powerful tool that enables clearer thinking.

Many bright people struggle because they never received a proper language education (and yes, that education, especially on the intuitive level, starts at home). As an attorney, I see these struggles first hand -- among clients and peers alike -- on a daily basis, and these people are both very bright and highly educated.

Please don't get me started on the woefully inadequate instruction that passes for legal writing classes.

Shanna said...

I think it's so funny when people make grammatical errors in a post criticizing the mistakes of others!

YAMB, I'm not a grammar nazi, particularly on hastily written internet posts, but "it's" equals "it is" is pretty damn important in a published advertisement, which is what we were proof reading. What I couldn't believe is that after I pointed it out, THEY DIDN'T BELIEVE ME!

JenL said...

I'm baffled that these sorts of rigorous exercises were/are dismissed as worthless. I guess it's because of "complicated" theories about the social context that the first formal grammars of English were written in...
In my experience, they dropped the multiplication tables and the grammar classes, because they were right/wrong - they weren't warm and fuzzy enough to be able to emphasize the "but you tried real hard" that some folks were pushing for.

How long have we had language? Twenty thousand years? Thirty thousand? Even if you are an ardent Bible-thumping creationist, you will admit that we have had language for about 6500 years. And, then, in the 1970s, some schmuck is going to come along with a radical, new way to teach this thing that has been taught for thousands of years?
But hasn't most punctuation only been around since the printing press? Before that, most people learned how to speak their language like the people around them, and the highly educated learned to speak and write multiple languages. But the concept that everyone ought to know where to put the commas, apostrophes, and quote marks is not that old.

Seven Machos said...

Jen -- But commas and apostrophes is not what diagramming is about. It's the theory of writing.

You can be a decent writer without really understand how to use apostrophes and commas correctly all the time (but cf. "eats, shoots, and leaves"). You can never be a good writer if you don't understand the structure of the thing.

Smilin' Jack said...

Ann Althouse said...

Kids who speak bad grammar are doing a perfectly good job of talking like the adults in their lives. It's a real disadvantage to start from. Good grammar should just feel right, and it's not going to be easy for them to get that feeling.

Sure it is...they were doing it for thousands of years before anyone even thought of teaching it...where do you think it came from in the first place?

Kids acquire grammar naturally, and primarily from other kids, not adults. That's why living languages change, and Latin doesn't.

And if we're getting grammatically picky, you cannot "speak bad grammar", you can only speak with bad grammar...grammar is a structure, not a sound.

John Kindley said...

I agree with what Tibore said above, that diagramming was actually fun. Hopefully it also helped. Try diagramming the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, a project I set my students on back when I was teaching English to eighth-graders a long time ago. The simple subject and verb of that sentence? "Respect requires."

Tibore said...

"Me? Polite? Constructive? Likeable? Wow, I have to try harder..."

Hehe... sure. Just do quick, stupid, moronic hits like the afore mentioned blithering f****** idiot and you'll totally be there.

"When one many german sentences mastered, one's english grammar sometimes backwards became.

It might the structure differences have been."

Ow... ow... thanks a lot, man, I broke my brain trying to parse that! I totally blame you, dammit!


vnjagvet said...

Tibore, Maxine suggested that learning German helps with parts of speech. I don't disagree, but it sure played hell with my english word order instincts as my illustration tried to show.

michael farris said...

"the social context that the first formal grammars of English were written in..."

Was that writing grammars was a cottage industry in England and many people who had no training in the language arts turned their hands to it (mostly trying to squeeze Germanic English into their school Latin - a straightjacket which it absolutely did not fit into).

A lot of what was produced was pure nonsense (the old will/shall rule was created out of whole cloth by a mathematician IIRC) but managed to somehow gain the glitter of 'tradition' and lots of people tried to believe it. But it absolutely does not work in practice.

For the sentence diagramming enthusiasts, please define the word 'preposition'.

Seven Machos said...

Michael -- Define the word "two."

michael farris said...

Hey, I never claimed to be a mathematician, but

two: a cardinal number, (the sum of) one plus one

still waiting for the definition of preposition

Josef Novak said...

"Is there a computer program that automatically produces a diagram of a sentence? I'd like to see that."

There is something better,
Penn the Treebank Project

LDC Link
As they mention in their google summary, the Penn Treebank is "A corpus of parsed sentences. Used by many researchers for training data-driven parsing algorithms." We still use this in NLP (Natural Language Processing) for a wide variety of solutions, although 100% data driven approaches are rapidly increasing in terms of their viability.

There may be some software out there claiming to accomplish the feat you mention, but I would be extremely wary of any such bold claims. Like spontaneous speech recognition, I suspect that comprehensive and error-free sentence diagramming is still many years away. Of course, your word processor probably has a pretty sophisticated parser - that's what it is using as it fumbles about trying to correct your grammar in real time.

But by and large, people power still far outstrips the computer in the area of natural language Problems.

Regarding the comment about foreign language learning, I definitely advocate the position that it boosts critical awareness of one's native language, but only when study is sufficiently deep. Then again, developing easy fluency in a foreign language, comparable to the way one commands their native tongue, is a truly incredible task. I have spent the last three years learning Japanese intensively as part of my graduate studies in NLP, in Japan, and it is only now, after tremendous effort and loads of help from my loving girlfriend that I'm reaching the point where I can teach rudimentary probability theory in clean crisp sentences...



Kirby Olson said...

Diagramming is sheer excitement. Finally some fun has been put back into school.

It was the only thing I liked in school as much as geometry.

I also liked dodgeball but I'm not sure it was a "subject."

I can imagine that dodgeball has been banned in some schools. Is it still going?

Patrick J. Shea said...


I'll take a jab at it: a preposition is a member of a group of generally short, descriptive words that begin relational phrases that modify substantive nouns, verbs or adjectives. In English, prepositions generally serve the purpose that genitive, dative, ablative, etc., case inflections serve in more inflected languages, namely to describe the relationship of foundational words in a sentence in terms of time, place, possession, function, logic, etc.

To get back to the thread topic -- diagramming is a great way to learn how prepositions function in a sentence and how to avoid the many pitfalls associated with them.

Seven Machos said...

A preposition is a little word that, when paired with a noun after it, describes something.

The kitten went ______ the cans. If a word goes in the blank, it's a preposition. There are a few that don't work there. The most vital one is "of."

My point with "two" is that abstract schematic things like numbers and grammatical identifiers are themselves definitional by nature and, thus, difficult to define. But you know them when you see them. Like pornography.

vnjagvet said...


aus, ausser, bei, mit, nach, seit, vor, zu.

These came from deep in the memory bank, stored and unused for about 48 years.

michael farris said...

Just in case someone's still around, the correct answer to 'define prepositions' is a question: In what language? (yes, it's a trick question but they behave differently enough in different languages that they have to be defined language specifically)

In English, prepositions are case markers, that is they indicate some kind of semantic relation between a nominal (noun or noun-like word) and some other word, usually a verb.
At some level of structure they appear before the noun they govern, but may be separated from it
(Who was he talking to? is derived from "He was talking to who?")or the nominal may be deleted in some cases leaving the preposition all by itself (That's the house she lives in.)

you're well-diddley-come

Kirby Olson said...

Diagramming sentences was the only thing I liked as much as dodgeball.

They outlawed them both when I was in fifth grade.

Too hard on kids, the principal said from the monitor.

I thought the Quakers had taken over (school was near Philadelphia). Thank heavens it's back. Maybe now they'll bring back dodgeball, too.

Wickedpinto said...

I know this thread is dead.

If you look at foreign language learning.....they don't use diagrams. Instead you are immersed in the language.

I forget who said this, and devalued their own statement as soon as they said it.

Clearly author of the above italicized statement, is only talking about western languages.

Good luck not sounding like a complete retard with a poorly diagramed Japanese sentence.

Hey, lets assume you are correct.

"Desu chimpo wa bakka tensai kimi"

or "kimi wa bakka chinpo tensai desu"

ask one of your japanese friends to translate the first, and then the second.

English is VERY complicated, that is why the nature of subjects verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and phrases including all of the previous leaders is an important thing.

I have said several times, after starting, just STARTING to learn japanese, that English is basicaly "vocal telepathy," even when it is executed correctly. THAT however, is no excuse to ignore the method of written, and VOCAL language (most Americans do not speak proper english, not even CLOSE) It is important for language, especially YOUR NATIVE FLOGGING LANGUAGE! to be expressed properly.

I fail in doing so most of the time, as do most other, however, I think that it is important for all of us and all of our children to be more familiar with it than those who speak it as a second language.

I remember an episode of ER, where "nila" was treating a bum (who happened to be black) and she described his condition, he responded "you speak english good!" all surprised, though he was a racist F. Nila's response? "Better than you in fact"

We need to stop FAILING the test of our foreign immigrant hopefuls in our own flogging language.

I'm a late commer, and it will take a while for me to correct it, but I will NEVER allow myself, or my nephew/niece to be as ignorant of language as I have been.