School grammar

An international collection of grammatical analysis systems used in schools

This is a small collection of systems that are, or have been, taught in schools as exercises in grammatical analysis. If you know of any other system, please tell me. Another page brings together various bits of material, including textbooks, showing how grammar has been taught in UK schools.


16th-10th centuries: Lily’s Grammar of Latin in English

  • First published 1542, authorized by Henry VIII as the only such grammar permitted in ‘his’ schools
  • Continued to dominate till mid 19th century, when it was replaced by Kennedy’s Latin primer
  • Included general grammar applicable to English as well as peculiarities of Latin
  • Was taught to seven-year olds, including William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton and William Wordsworth
  • By the 1709 edition it included a diagramming system with superscript ‘a’ and ‘b’ linking governor and dependent:

 Lily's diagramming system

19th-20th centuries:

  • Parsing
    • For syntactic (not morphological) analysis of individual words.
    • Uses a method invented in the 9th century (!!) in Western Europe by grammarians following Priscian (Luhtala 1994, in Encyc of Lang and Ling).
    • Classifies each word according to a fixed set of parameters (class, number, tense, etc)
  • Analysis
    • For syntactic analysis of the parts of a single clause.
    • A standard table, with labelled columns, distinguishes the subject, its ‘enlargement’, the finite verb, the object, the complement, and any ‘extension’ of the finite verb. For example (from Nesfield, 1891):

At least in state schools, both parsing and analysis disappeared from the curriculum in the 1960s, and from practice during the next few decades. It would probably be safe to say that they never happen now, though they may possibly continue in a few independent (i.e. private) schools.


Click here for a brief extract (courtesy of Google Books) from Weber 1997 about the history of dependency diagrams in German schools.


The following information comes from ‘Smilga’ (4 March 2011), who remembers having done these things in school twenty years ago; as far as he knows, the practice continues in Russian schools today (this is confirmed by a note quoted below):

  • morphemic analysis (literally, ‘dissection of the make-up of words’)
    • In morphemic analysis, one used a repertoire of shapes to mark different types of morphemes within a word: a box for the flexion, a tie for the root, wedges for derivational suffixes, corner brackets for prefixes.
    • an example:

  • syntactic analysis not above the level of clauses (literally, ‘dissection of sentences into members’).
    • In syntactic analysis, there were several styles of lines with which to underline single words and PPs (and sometimes shorter coordinate phrases) within a sentence: single line for the clause subject, double line for the predicate, dashed for both direct and indirect objects, dashed-dotted for adverbial modifiers, and wavy for adnominal modifiers.
    • This method deals nicely with most common clausal constructions (direct actives, impersonals and copulae) and simple NPs, but it has a major drawback in that it is essentially flat and so fails to capture the nesting in linguistic structures. I vaguely remember drawing some arrows (was it for subordinate clauses? not sure here); but when I once asked my teacher whether participial phrases should be marked as adnominal modifiers, or as clauses with internal structure, or, perhaps, both, she was all but dumbfounded. So this is not regular dependency grammar.
    • If I am not mistaken, the method goes back to early twentieth-century linguists like Fortunatov or Peškovskij, and it has not significantly changed since that pre-Tesnièrian epoch.
    • an example:

A student (Anya Emmons) who was in Russian schools for five years (aged 9-14) from 2004-9 writes:

Indeed, that kind of analysis is done on a day-to-day basis in the classroom, but it’s not entirely typical of exams. Those techniques of dissecting words and sentences were supposed to help us learn the rules, they were not necessary in and of themselves. The tables bring back many memories! Haha. I remember our textbook having whole chapters dedicated to the suffix “ova” or the prefix “pre/pri”, for instance. What the person writing the article [above] forgot to mention, however, is that there were ways of marking more complicated structures – we were taught to put vertical lines around clauses containing independent structures, and in some difficult cases there were crosses drawn above noun-verb pairs, as well as the arrows mentioned.

United States

    • In 1877, Reed and Kellog published a variation on Clark’s system, using lines instead of balloons, but keeping the other features.
    • For example:

    • 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.

The Czech Republic

Czech schools teach a modified version of the Reed and Kellogg diagrams invented in the USA. For example:






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