Diagramming Sentences

Prof. G. Dalgish

Baruch College, CUNY



            This program allows students to manipulate parts of a sentence into a standard Kellog-Reed sentence diagram. There are four levels: Simple sentences, compound/complex sentences,  infinitival/that-clause sentences, and miscellaneous sentences. The student uses a mouse to drag sentence elements into their places in the diagrams. The program comes with sentences for each level, or the teacher can create a file with sentences that are specific to and suitable for his/her class and level, and manipulate the program so that those sentences become the ones the students see. Related sentence parts are color-coded (the subject and its elements are red, the verb and adverbials are blue, etc.) and attractively presented. A special drawing tool allows students and teachers to draw, color, and print original sentences, and to create files of a number of sentences. The program has an additional tool for teachers to correct or edit a student file of diagrams. The teacher or the student can print, copy to the clipboard, or save a diagram at any point in the program.

Paper-and-pencil versions of sentence diagramming may once have been thought of as a tedious chore, but this program could actually make the exploration of sentence structure more entertaining and, hopefully, just as instructive.


Opening Screen.    The figure above shows the opening screen. The list box opens to numerous choices: Simple Sentences, Compound/Complex Sentences,  ‘For/To or That’ Type Sentences, Miscellaneous Sentences, ‘Create Your Own Sentences,' 'Teacher Creates Sentences' and 'Teacher Edits/Corrects Student Sentences.' The last two options require the teacher's password.


Simple Sentences. Let us assume the student has clicked on the Simple Sentences option. The next screen s/he sees will look something like the following:


The yellow instructional box explains to the student that he or she will see the words of a sentence and must drag the words into the correct places in the diagram. This "introductory instructional box" is dismissed when the student clicks on it.

The top of the screen contains menu items and shortcut buttons, and certain of these are enabled. Their functions are as follows:

·        the left arrow button takes the student back to the starting page;

·        the button with a red N stands for ‘new sentence’ and will produce and display a new sentence;

·        the button with the number sign allows the student to select a particular numbered sentence. It toggles between displaying numbers and hiding numbers (the latter is equivalent to randomly selecting a sentence);

·        the file folder button opens a file dialog box and the student can open or load a file that contains other sentences;

·        the printer button prints the student diagram or screen (color printer works best);

·         the copy button copies an image of the diagram or the screen to the clipboard;

·        the disk button prompts the student to save the image or screen of the diagram;

·        the “F” button allows the student to change the font of a word;

·        the “i” for “informational” button displays information about each word in the diagram, such as “The word <girl> functions as the subject of the sentence” or “The word <petted> functions as the Main Verb of the sentence.”

·        if the “{C}” or “Commentary” button is enabled, the student can read a comment about the whole sentence, such as “The sentence has a transitive verb;”

·        the “Auto” button automatically moves the words into their correct places in the diagram. The student is prompted for a password to do this, and the teacher may decide whether or not to release the password;

·        the “redo” arrow is one that refreshes the screen in case some of the words appear indistinct or faded;

·        the question mark button displays some help information.


When the student passes the cursor over any of these buttons, the “tool-tip” text describes the function of the button. Many of the functions on the buttons are repeated in the menu items.


            Once the student dismisses the yellow instructional box, the student then drags the words one by one and “drops” them into their correct places in the diagram. Notice the color coding: it is there to suggest to the student that the constituents the girl belong together and are in the subject area; the constituent petted is the verb, and the constituents the dog are the object elements.


            If the student drops the constituent into the correct area, the constituent will attach itself to that area and stay there. If the student drags and drops the constituent into the wrong area, the constituent will simply return to its original place at the bottom. Sometimes a less-than-perfect “drop” is tolerated by the program, and sometimes not; the students have to be careful. Also, the program will “center” the dropped constituent in the diagram, and will align it at a 45 degree angle if appropriate.


            In the figure below, the student sees the screen with a “blank” diagram:


            The completed sentence looks like this:

            When the student clicks on the New sentence button or menu choice, s/he will see another randomly selected sentence to be manipulated in the same way. Here is a quick sampling of some simple sentence types:


Simple Intransitive Sentence:



Compound Objects in a Simple Sentence:




Auto-Move.   This feature is primarily for the teacher to view the expected results for each completed sentence. After clicking on New sentence, the teacher (or student) could click on Auto-move to have the program automatically move the constituents into their correct slots.  The first time the user clicks on Auto-Move (from the menu or from the button), s/he will see a password screen like the following:



The Username box should be left blank; the Password is currently set at password. Once it is entered, and the OK button is clicked, the words will be moved automatically into their correct places. This function should probably be used sparingly; teachers would probably want the students to work a little rather than simply choosing Auto-Move to whip through the sentences.


Selecting a Type of Sentence.    The student can choose among sentence types (Transitive, Intransitive, Linking, etc.) and see only those sentences of that type. The student clicks on the menu item File.. and then Choose Sentence Type… A list box then appears with the choices of sentences available in this file (Transitive, Intransitive, Verb Particle, Linking, There, etc..):


Once the student selects one of these choices, he/she will see only those sentences with that characteristic. A plus sign appears on the “N” button to indicate that the choice is “on.”


Printing the Screen.           The user can click on the menu item File.. and then Print Screen.. to receive a printout of the current screen. Note: color printers work best for this function.


Loading another Teacher-Prepared File.         The program contains a few files of diagrams that have already been created by the author and can be loaded to replace the ones that start the program by default. (Later in this description is a discussion of how the teacher can create his or her own file containing individualized sentences to use instead of the ones loaded by default). To obtain a new file with different sentences, the student clicks on the menu item File.. and then on Open Teacher Prepared File and sees something similar to the following figure:


The selected file, Chapter5Sentences.tdf  is then loaded and the program uses the sentences in that file as the basis for the exercises. This is a file of sentences that were adapted from Chapter 5 of the book Grammar by Diagram (Workbook) by Cindy L. Vitto (Broadview Press, 2009). Once this file is loaded into the program, the student will only see the sentences from that file:



In the diagram above, the student would drag the words to the correct places. In the diagram below, we see a different, finished sentence from the same source.



When the student has completed this diagram, she/he can click on the {C} commentary button to read a note about this sentence. In this case, the author of the book distinguishes between Simple Sentences with Compound elements inside it and Compound Sentences (with two clauses). The Commentary information picks up on this:



Return to Start.       The student returns to the startup page by clicking on the left-arrow button, or on the menu item File.. and Return to Start.


Compound/Complex Sentences.          From the startup screen, the student can select the second option, Compound/Complex Sentences. Since the activities for this portion are similar to those of the Simple Sentences piece, we shall examine just a few structures in passing.


New Sentences.     The student will see a randomly selected sentence on starting up this portion of the program:


            As with the simple sentences, in these more complicated examples the student must drag the constituents from the bottom of the screen and drop them into their correct locations in the diagram. As before, dropping the constituent in the wrong area simply means that the item won’t “stick.”


            The other options are similar to the choices under Simple Sentences.


‘For-to’ or ‘That’ Sentences.        From the starting screen, the user can select the third option, the infinitival and clausal sentences. As in the previous two choices, the student would then click on the red N button or on the menu item File.. New Sentence.  The screen that appears looks like the figure below:

As before, the student drags the constituents to the correct location on the diagram. When an incorrect “drag and drop” operation takes place, the constituent simply returns to its place at the bottom of the screen.

            The student has many of the same options available as were present in the preceding portions of the program.


Copying Diagrams to the Clipboard.  The program also allows the user to copy the diagram to the Windows Clipboard, from where it can be pasted into a word processor like Word or Word Perfect. Whether working in “Simple Sentences,” “Compound/Complex Sentences” or “For/To Sentences,” the user first clicks on the menu item Image Captures.. and then on Copy Diagram to Clipboard. Then, s/he would switch into the relevant word processor and select the “paste” function (or type Ctrl-V, a Windows-universal shortcut key for pasting). The diagram below (from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) was obtained this way:



Printing the Diagram.      The user can also send the sentence and diagram to the printer. Whether working in “Simple Sentences,” “Compound/Complex Sentences,” or “For/To Sentences, the user would first select the menu item File.. and then Print Screen. The user will be prompted for some printer settings, and then the printer should produce the diagram. Of course, color printers work best.


Saving an Image of the Diagram as a Bitmap File. The user can save an image of the diagram as a picture file, specifically, a Windows Bitmap-type file (other tools would have to be used to convert the bitmap to other file types). Whether working in “Simple Sentences,” “Compound/Complex Sentences,” or “For/To Sentences,” the user would first select the menu item Image Captures.. and then Save Image of Diagram as Bitmap File.. The user will be prompted for a valid file name and the image will be saved with that name (plus the .bmp file extension suffix).


Miscellaneous Prepared Sentences.   The program also comes with some “miscellaneous” sentences that have been prepared ahead of time by the author. The teacher can create similar “free-style” diagrams that will surface in the program when asked for. The student begins this section from the opening screen, clicking on “Miscellaneous Prepared Sentences.”


The image below illustrates a screen from this page. A randomly chosen prepared sentence has been put on screen:



The student begins to drag the words one by one into the correct places in the diagram. Just as in the previous cases, the word will stay in the position if the student drops it close to what the teacher intended; it will bounce back to its original position if incorrectly dropped.


The student can obtain information on each of the words that has been successfully dropped into position. When clicked, the button with a blue “i” (for information) depicts a grey frame with a reading box and a slider under it. The student clicks the slider and then a “tick” for the number of the word in the sentence.



When the student selects a “tick,” the explanation for the word corresponding to the number of the tick appears in the dark box:



To dismiss the grey frame, the student double-clicks on it.


The student would click on the red N button for a new sentence, and repeat the procedures above.

To return to the starting screen, the student clicks on File.. then Return,  or on the leftward, black arrow button.


Loading a New File of Prepared Sentences.  The teacher can create a file of specially prepared, miscellaneous sentences (see: Teacher Preparation of Sentences for details) and can instruct his/her students to open or load them into the program (when the program starts, the author’s file of such prepared sentences is loaded by default). The process for the student is simple: The student clicks on the menu item File.. then on Open a Different File.., whereupon s/he is prompted for the new file name. The teacher will have created such a file and will have told the students its name, so the student will have to navigate to it. After the file is loaded, the sentences in that file become the raw material of the program, and appear randomly when the student clicks on the N button (for New Sentences).



Draw, Color and Print Diagrams.          This section describes the drawing tool that allows the student or the teacher to create a diagram “from scratch,” color the parts, and print the result. The program cannot “judge” the accuracy of the diagram; it is the responsibility of the user to create the correct structure for the sentence. Nevertheless, this is a useful tool for teachers who would like to create completed or partially completed diagrams for homework, and for students and teachers who want to “create their own” sentences beyond the strictures of the existing program.

            From the starting screen, the user clicks on the ‘Create Your Own Diagrams’  option:


The next screen looks something like the following.


It contains two “instructional” boxes that describe the steps in making a diagram, a white area in which to type the text of the sentence, a series of shortcut buttons to simplify the drawing process, and a wide grey area to draw in.

            The first step is to type the words of the sentence. Suppose we decide our sentence will be: My students like to diagram sentences. That is the text we type into the white box. After that, the user clicks the ‘Sentence OK; Begin Diagram’ button; the screen will look like this:

The next step is to draw the diagram structure. To draw any line, the user must


(a) first move the mouse to the starting position for that line;

(b) hold down the SHIFT key;

(c) hold down the left button of the mouse;

(d) drag the mouse to the ending position for that line;

(e) release the SHIFT key and the mouse button.

The line should appear.


Shortcut Buttons. It is very difficult to draw perfectly straight lines because the computer is working on a system of “twips” and the positioning is very exacting. For this reason I urge you to use the shortcut buttons to draw lines; these buttons cover most of the basic structures you will need to draw.

            The shortcut buttons work just like drawing:

(a) click on the button with the structure you want (in our original sentence – My students like to diagram sentences– the structure is that of a transitive sentence. So, you first click on that button and you will then be able to draw a perfect structure.

(b) Move the mouse to the starting position for that line;

(c) hold down the SHIFT key;

(d) hold down the left button of the mouse;

(e) drag the mouse to the ending position for that line;

(f) release the SHIFT key and the mouse button. The structure should appear:

The next step would be to add the other lines needed in the structure. The word My is a subject modifier, and should appear printed slanted, on a slanted line below the subject (students).  You could attempt to draw a perfect slanted line, at just the right angle for the slanted word My, or you could use the shortcut button instead. The modifier button looks like this; (as with any button, when you put the mouse over the button a short description of that button’s function appears). You click on the button, move the cursor to a position on the subject line and somewhat to the left of the center of the subject “area,” then proceed as above (use SHIFT key, left button, drag mouse, release). With some practice, you will get the line to appear where you want it, something like this:

The next structure is the “infinitive to” structure that functions as the object of the verb like. The form for this structure is a pedestal, with slanty lines for the word to, etc. Again, you could do this freestyle, but the shortcut buttons are easier to use. A button for “‘To’ Infinitives” is available; you click on that button, move to the line where you want the “pedestal” to rest on, hold SHIFT, the left button, and drag upward and release. The diagram should look like this:


The ‘To Infinitive’ structure needs an additional vertical direct object line; you can use the shortcut button for that to produce the correct diagram below:


We can now begin to drag the words to their positions in the diagram. The main constituents are moved in the image below:


The modifying word My should be slanted in the diagram. To accomplish this, the user right-clicks on the word to rotate and stops clicking when the desired slant is achieved. The same step is used to rotate to:



If the word doesn’t fit right, you may have to move it and then re-position it. Note: to move the word, it must be in an “upright” position. This is an unfortunate restriction forced on me by the limitations of the rotating text tool. I also suggest dragging the word “out into space” away from the diagram, then bringing it back in; tiny movements will go unnoticed by the computer.





Editing a Line Length.       You may notice that there is not a lot of room on the horizontal line after the vertical object line to hold the word sentences, the direct object of the infinitive verb to diagram. It would be nice to make the horizontal line longer to accommodate this. The program has a line editing function that allows you to do this.

The shortcut button that has a picture of two rulers (this corresponds to a menu choice Edit..Line Editing.. ) is the one you will want. When you click on the ruler button, the program provides you with a slider to use to search for each line to edit. You move the slider through the numbers until you find the line to edit. As you choose each number, the line appears with “A” and “B” handles on its end points, and the program queries you if that is the line to be edited. The screen below shows what happens after the user finds the line to be edited:



If the user wishes that line to be edited, s/he clicks on the That Line OK button. S/he is then prompted if the s/he user wants to delete this line (in this case, “No” would be the correct response), and then is instructed to ‘Drag one of the handles A or B to adjust the line.’ In this case, s/he would drag the handle ‘B’ to the right to lengthen the line. The program then displays this screen:



The program then asks if this new line is acceptable. The user answers ‘Yes’ and after a few more questions about the characteristics of this line, the line is adjusted to the desired length:



            Notice that the line that separates the word diagram from the word sentences is too close to the word diagram. In this case we would want to delete the line.  Clicking on the button with the eraser image erases the last line drawn; in this case, that line was in fact the last line drawn. The line would be erased, and then you would insert a new one closer to sentences.






Adding Color.          You can change the color of the elements in the diagram. I have used red for subject constituents, blue for verb constituents, and green for object constituents; you can change these, of course. And you may adjust the size and format of the fonts, so that “major” constituents are bigger than minor ones, or change to bold or italics. Whatever your computer can display and print is available for you to adjust.

            The first step is to select a constituent to “colorize.” You move to the constituent you want, hold down the Ctrl key (“Ctrl” for “color”) and click on the word.

            In this example, I clicked on the word students and the following image appeared:

You can change the font name (I stayed with ‘Arial’), the Color (I switched to ‘Red’), the Font Style and the Font Size.  After you click on the OK button, you will see the word students appear in red:

You can continue with the other constituents, changing colors and fonts.


Printing the Diagram.        The diagram can be printed when you are finished with it. Click on the menu item Image Captures.. and then on Print Sentence Box and the Diagram. You will be prompted for your name. The screen, with your sentence at the top, the diagram below, and your name in a frame, will appear on the printed version. You get best results if you have a color printer. Caution: This does not work on a networked printer.

Copying a Diagram to the Clipboard.   You can copy part or all of the Diagram screen to the Windows clipboard (and from there you can paste the image into a word processor. One method is to copy the sentence box and the diagram. You click on Image Captures.. and then Copy Image.. and then on Copy Sentence Box and Diagram Area. If you were also running Microsoft Word or some other word processor that accepts images, you could then switch tasks and enter that word processor, and paste the image. Similarly, you could select only a portion of the screen and send that to the clipboard. The first step is to select the portion of the screen you would like to copy. Hold down the SHIFT and CTRL keys, and then use the mouse (hold down the left button) to drag and trace an outline of the area you want to be copied (this is called a “selection” area). A dashed box appears around that area. Let go of the mouse and keys and select the menu item Image Captures.. then Copy Image.. and then Copy Specified to Clipboard. (If you have not specified an area, the computer will warn you).  The computer asks you to click on OK while it gathers its strength, and then the copy should work


Saving the Image of the Diagram as a Bitmap File.   You can save the image of the diagram as a Windows graphic file, specifically, a Windows Bitmap-type file. Click on Image Capture.. then on Save Image.. As with Copying and Printing described above, one choice is to save the sentence box and the diagram; do this by then clicking on Save Sentence Box and Diagram Area. You will be prompted for a valid file name, and the image will be saved. The other choice is to specify the region of the diagram you want to be saved. Just as you did with printing, the first step is to select the portion of the screen you would like to save. Hold down the SHIFT and CTRL keys, and then use the mouse (hold down the left button) to drag and trace an outline of the area you want to be copied (this is called a “selection” area). A dashed box appears around that area. Let go of the mouse and keys and select the menu item Image Captures.. then Save Image.. then   Save Specified Area as a Bitmap File.... (If you have not specified an area, the computer will warn you).  The computer asks you to specify a valid file name, and then the image is saved.


New Sentences and Diagrams.  Now that the sentence has been properly diagrammed, colored, printed, copied, or saved, you may wish to work on another. To clear the screen, select the File menu, then click on New Sentence. Or, you could also click on the shortcut button that has the red N for New Sentence.. You will then have a blank screen, and a new blank typing area for the sentence. You proceed as before: type the sentence, click on ‘Sentence OK,’ move the constituents around, etc.

            To exit, click on File.. then on Return to Start.


                               Teacher Preparation of Sentences


            The teacher can create a file of annotated sentences that the program can “understand” and display for the students to manipulate. The teacher can vary the level of sentences, and alter the content to whatever seems suitable.  From the Starting screen, select the item “Teacher Prepares Diagrams” and click on Go.



Teacher Prepares Sentences. In this section, the teacher prepares a file that dictates the drawing of a diagram that the student will manipulate. The teacher manipulates the diagram at will and the program will take note of the words, the positions of the lines, the correct “drop zone” regions, the colors, fonts and “slant” of the words/boxes. The teacher should know how to “draw” the diagrams as described in the sections above for students: Create Your Own Diagrams.


The teacher must type in the password on encountering this page – it is password. No user name is required.


The teacher then sees a screen like the image below:


The instructions in the yellow box are self-explanatory. They ask the teacher to follow the instructions in the gray boxes, which are very similar to the “Create Your Own” portion of the program. The yellow box itself is cleared by clicking on it.


The first step is of course to type in the text of the sentence in the first white box. Assume that the teacher has done so; the screen looks like this:



The teacher has typed in the sentence My dog has fleas, and clicked the Sentence OK button. The program distributes the words in invisible boxes below; it is now time to draw the lines for the diagram.


The teacher draws lines exactly as described in box (2), and in the earlier description of Create Your Own Diagrams.  The teacher should use the shortcut buttons to create common diagram structures; in this case, the transitive verb structure would be chosen, with a modifier line under the subject. That structure looks like this:



The teacher then drags the words to the appropriate places on the diagram structure, colors the constituents as s/he pleases, and right-clicks on the box with My in it to rotate it 45 degrees. The next step is to click on the large button at the right captioned Keep Completed Diagram. The screen looks like this:



The next screen shows what happens after that button is clicked:


The word dog is circled and there is an input box requesting the teacher to type in the grammatical category for that word. In this case, the teacher would probably type in Subject and click OK. The program then goes on to the each of the remaining words, prompting for the category. When the words are exhausted, the program will ask the teacher to keep the sentence (click on Yes), revise it (click on No), or discard it (click on Cancel). If the teacher clicks on Yes, the program will ask for the “type of sentence” category: in this case, it might be Transitive, or maybe Simple Transitive, or Non-passive Transitive, or whatever. Then the program will prompt the teacher for any special commentary about this sentence that he/she would like to be available to the student, perhaps something like: “The verb has looks transitive, but does not have all the features of a real transitive verb.” Then the teacher clicks on OK to close that dialog. The program will then “remember” this diagram, the lines, the words, the colors and the categories.


The teacher would then click on the red N button (or on File…New sentence) to clear the screen and begin a new sentence.


Saving the Sentences.   When the teacher has constructed enough sentences, s/he would probably wish to save them in a file for student use in the program. The teacher should click on the menu item File…Save All Sentences in a File for Student Use. S/he will be prompted for a file name in the usual manner; the file will then be saved. Students who then use the Miscellaneous Sentences portion of the program can then be directed to open or load that file at the appropriate time.


Loading/Opening an Existing File.  The teacher can bring back a file that s/he had previously worked on and wishes to continue with. The teacher clicks on File...Open and Add to an Existing File of Sentences. S/he will be prompted for the file name, and then those sentences will become part of the “session.”  By going through the steps above, the teacher then adds the new sentences s/he creates to that already existing list of sentences, to create a larger number of them for his/her students. Again, before leaving, the teacher would probably wish to save the sentences for his/her students.



Download the Setup or Installation.      Click on this link to download the newest version of the Diagramming Program.This will be the entire Setup package in a .zip file. You will need to unzip the downloaded file, then run the 'Setup' program to install Diagramming Sentences to your computer.