Sentence-diagramming systems used in the USA

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Sentence diagramming is still popular in some American schools, though the picture is complicated and it seems to be disappearing. Its history has been written by Kitty Burns Florey.

In 1836, Frederick Barnard, a distinguished and brilliant but deaf polymath, scientist and educator, wrote “Analytic grammar, with symbolic illustrations” for deaf students, with a diagramming system in which each word has a symbol which shows its potential links to other words. For instance (page 28):

By combining these symbols his system distinguished sentence patterns like these (in an exercise on synthesising sentences, page 54):

In 1847, Stephen Watkins  Clark published a method for diagramming sentences. His diagrams used

  • balloons round words and word-groups,
  • the vertical dimension for dominance (i.e. government, subordination, dependency)
  • but the main clause’s verb and its subject are written on the same line.

His system may be based on one published in 1832, in Germany, by Hans Billroth, which used lines instead of balloons.

Here’s an example from Clark’s Analysis of the English Language (1851) pages 54-5, via Gleason, Linguistics and English Grammar (1965), page 73:

And here’s another example (courtesy of Google Books) from p. 33 of the 1864 edition of A Practical Grammar: In which Words, Phrases, and Sentences Are Classified According to Their Offices and Their Various Relations to One Another.

In 1877,  Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg published a system using lines instead of balloons, and even more like Billroth’s 1832 system

Reed and Kellogg’s system is still used and taught in at least some American schools, and even has a website for automatic analysis. Go here for a much more detailed and thorough survey of 19th century American diagramming systems, including Reed-Kellogg diagrams.


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