Learning a lost art: Sentence Diagramming

Posted by on May 22, 2017

Why Sentence Diagram?

I read a good book recently, “Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog” by Kitty Burns Florey.  The book is a well written, witty history on the birth and progressive refinement of sentence diagramming.  I think she sums up how most feel about sentence diagramming in the opening pages, 1“Diagramming sentences is one of those lost skills, like darning socks or playing the sackbut, that no ones seems to miss.”

My first exposure to sentence diagramming that I remember was at Grace Bible Church in 2011.  I’m sure my third grade elementary school teacher taught me but I must have been absent that day or fantasizing about playing the sackbut.  Regardless, I was deprived of this illustrious, systematic tool used to dissect sentences.  So, for the next 20 years I lived in the fog, not knowing what I was reading…

Thankfully, I turned out literate and most everyone reads books grasping what is being communicated.  I read lots of books during that 20 years never thinking about how a noun is being modified by an adjective clause.  In our culture we want things to happen fast!  Speed, quickly becomes our friend.  Skills like sharpening knives and shaving with straight blade razors are, “not worth our time.”  Sadly, in the noble effort to do things as fast as possible, we can miss the joys that come from slowing down to grasp something adequately.

As Greer’s “official” grammar teacher, it is my responsibility to learn parts of speech and sentence diagramming as best I can.  You’re asking the question right?  Why learn this lost art that I don’t need anyway?  The most practical application I have found for diagramming is the study of The Bible.  View it as a means to focus and give clarity, allowing you to take grasp the primary points being communicated.

An Example:  John 3:16

Look at this diagram of John 3:16.  How many times have you heard the emphasis of this passage placed on God “so loving” the world?  Now it is true that God loved “so loved” the world however, it is not the main point of the passage.  It is only describing the way God demonstrated his love, by sending his son.  The main point of the passage, which Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus and us is in blue.  This passage is from the ESV.

Sentence Diagramming: John 3:16

You can see the clarity of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  Jesus makes a statement that God loved mankind (world).   Then he tells Nicodemus that God showed his love for mankind (world) in a specific way:  He sent his son.  Finally he answers the question of why the son was sent:  To give whoever believes in Jesus eternal life that keeps them from perishing.  This is a great passage!  Knowing such truths more deeply will only bring greater clarity to God’s Word with resulting worship of Christ.

If you are interested in learning more about sentence diagraming, consider the resources below.  If you decide to pickup sentence diagramming don’t give up.  I have a friend who is a golf professional and golf instructor back in Arizona.  He always says, “Practice makes permanent.”  I love that statement!  It is just as true to golfing as it is to sentence diagramming.  Happy Diagramming!


Helpful Sentence Diagramming Resources

Grammar Revolution:


Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog


Resources by Eugene Moutoux:


Diagramming the Scriptures:



1:  Kitty Burns Florey, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog (New York: Melville House Publishing, 2006), 4-5 (depending on device), Kindle.