6 Creative Uses of Sentence Diagramming

Sentence diagramming was once a widespread technique for teaching kids how to analyze the structure of a sentence. If you had to do it in school, you either loved it or you hated it. Most kids hated it. But for the kids who loved it, it made language into an orderly puzzle, complicated but solvable, where words clicked into interlocking pairs, groups, and chunks, until a picture of the hidden architecture of sentences emerged. That architecture, when exposed, can be beautiful. It’s no wonder that sentence diagrams have made their way into art. Here are 6 creative uses of sentence diagramming.

1. Our Own Effort (Proust)

Click to enlarge. Image courtesy of Nicholas Knight

Artist Nicholas Knight features sentence diagrams in many of his drawings, collages, and wall installations. He diagrams quotes from famous artists and thinkers that highlight the interplay between meaning and structure. This work, Our Own Effort (Proust), represents Proust’s statement that “what we have not had to decipher and to clarify by our own effort, what was clear before we came, does not belong to us.” You can figure this out, through the clarifying effects of your own effort, if you closely study this print that at first appears to be a colorful subway map.

2. close 

Image courtesy  of Kelly Sherman and Barbara Krakow Gallery.

Artist Kelly Sherman has produced a series of works diagramming lines of original poetry. As she says in her artist’s statement, “reiterating or undermining the sentences’ content, the work in this series addresses the hierarchies, structures and overwhelming eloquence of language.” In this work, close, the modifiers of the adjective “close” in “so close like breath” are obscured to different degrees by layers of vellum, adding another element of visual structure.

3. 9 artists/9 spaces

Photo courtesy of

In 1970, the Minnesota State Arts Council organized a show of art in public spaces called 9 artists/9 spaces. The invited artists prepared their pieces, but almost none of the works were ever seen because, as Peggy Weil explains in this unbelievable history of the event, “one by one each piece fell victim to controversy or mishap.” One was vandalized, one was dismantled by the FBI, and one was shut down after a giant cache of explosives were discovered in the basement of the building where it was installed. The piece Robert Cummings created, a giant sculpture of diagrammed sentences made up of 1150 painted letters on wooden scaffold, was destroyed when a semi truck crashed into it. As if that wasn’t unlucky enough, the camera of the photographer who was at that very moment photographing the piece was also destroyed, along with the detailed images he was in the middle of capturing for posterity.

4. "Which Sentences Are We Diagramming"

Comic by Kevin Huizenga; image via Austin Kleon. 

In “Which Sentences are We Diagramming,” Kevin Huizenga illustrates the frustration of parsing confusing sentences. He tries to untangle structure through everything from sentence diagrams and lists to base-running and Mad Libs. The full version of this comic is at What Things Do.

5. "a loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge"

Image courtesy of Follow Your Gnose


This post from Follow Your Gnose gives instructions for making your own sentence diagram mobile. The sentence pictured here, “a loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge,” is from Thomas Carlyle. With some card stock, wooden dowels, fishing line, and glue you too could set some delicately balanced clauses spinning in the breeze.


6. "cross-stitching is contagious"


Image courtesy of Embroiderbee

The straight lines of sentence diagrams lend themselves well to anything made on a grid. Embroiderbee offers a huge selection of free needlework patterns, including this cross stitch sentence diagram.

University of York
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
UK Archaeologists Have Found One of the World’s Oldest 'Crayons'
University of York
University of York

A prehistoric chunk of pigment found near an ancient lake in England may be one of the world's oldest crayons, Colossal reports. The small object made of red ochre was discovered during an archaeological excavation near Lake Flixton, a prehistoric lake that has since become a peat wetland but was once occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Though it’s hard to date the crayon itself, it was found in a layer of earth dating back to the 7th millennium BCE, according to a recent study by University of York archaeologists.

Measuring less than an inch long, the piece of pigment is sharpened at one end, and its shape indicates that it was modified by a person and used extensively as a tool, not shaped by nature. The piece "looks exactly like a crayon," study author Andy Needham of the University of York said in a press release.

A pebble of red ochre thought to be a prehistoric crayon
University of York

The fine grooves and striations on the crayon suggest that it was used as a drawing tool, and indicate that it might have been rubbed against a granular surface (like a rock). Other research has found that ochre was collected and used widely by prehistoric hunter-gatherers like the ones who lived near Lake Flixton, bolstering the theory that it was used as a tool.

The researchers also found another, pebble-shaped fragment of red ochre at a nearby site, which was scraped so heavily that it became concave, indicating that it might have been used to extract the pigment as a red powder.

"The pebble and crayon were located in an area already rich in art," Needham said. "It is possible there could have been an artistic use for these objects, perhaps for coloring animal skins or for use in decorative artwork."

[h/t Colossal]

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Tour the National Museum of Scotland From Home With Google Street View
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Google's Street View technology can be used to view some amazing art, whether it's behind the walls of the Palace of Versailles in France or the Guggenheim Museum in New York. As the BBC reports, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is the latest institution to receive the virtual treatment.

The museum contains items tracing the history of the world and humanity. In the Natural World galleries, visitors will find a hulking Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and a panorama of wildlife. In the World Cultures galleries, there are centuries' worth of art and innovation to see. The museum's permanent galleries and the 20,000 objects on display can all be viewed from home thanks to the new online experience.

Users can navigate the virtual museum as they would a regular location on Street View. Just click the area you wish to explore and drag your cursor for full 365-degree views. If there's a particular piece that catches your interest, you may be able to learn more about it from Google Arts & Culture. The site has added 1000 items from the National Museum of Scotland to its database, complete with high-resolution photos and detailed descriptions.

The Street View tour is a convenient option for art lovers outside the UK, but the museum is also worth visiting in person: Like its virtual counterpart, admission to the institution is free.

[h/t BBC]


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