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Diagram a sentence for old time’s sake

There are moments in people’s lives when they get the first inkling of what they might want to do (as a career) when they grow up.

I didn’t realize it then, but one of my first career-awakening moments was in eighth grade at Our Lady of Sorrows School in McAllen, Texas (Go Cougars!). It was there in our cozy, air-conditioned portable building classroom that our teacher, Mrs. Marquis, revealed the mysterious and exciting exercise of diagramming sentences.

The Container Store for words

As I watched her at the chalkboard, all at once I began to understand what went into constructing sentences. I learned about parts of speech and their functions. This technique “organized” words and sentences for me and made everything make sense. Today, I would refer to sentence diagramming as The Container Store of sentence structure.

I see now that my excitement over sentence diagramming was a clue that I would years later pursue writing and eventually editing as a career. If you are a person who works with words (I guess we all do to some extent), likes words or is just curious about this old-school grammatical tool, take a look at this story and all of its helpful examples.

Grammatical technique reminds us to be clear 

If you ever get stumped by what’s going on in a sentence, whether you are writing or editing it, break it down into a diagram. And, yes, there’s an app for that (Windows, iPhone).

Clarity is the key to great writing and editing, and nothing clarifies sentences better than diagramming those sentences. Mrs. Marquis knew that, and I’m grateful she showed me how to do it.

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