Sentence Analysis

A method for identifying important sentence elements and analyzing sentence structure

Sentence analysis” is the name I use for a simple system of notation and identification of the basic parts of a sentence. This kind of analysis of a sentence can help you in a number of ways:

1. Identifying its most important elements (and trimming the sentence down to its essence)
2. Understanding how the sentence is constructed (its parts and how they fit together)
3. Recognizing errors in subject-verb agreement, pronoun case, punctuation, etc.

In teaching sentence analysis, I focus on four basic elements or aspects of the sentence:

1. Infinitive phrases and prepositional phrases (the most common extraneous elements)
2. Verbs
3. Subjects
4. Clauses (independent and dependent)

I call infinitive phrases and prepositional phrases “extraneous” elements here because they can be distractions that make it more difficult to correctly identify subjects and verbs. By identifying them, you can be more confident that your analysis of the more fundamental elements of the sentence is correct.

Although I was taught sentence diagramming in middle school and still consider that experience very valuable, taking the time to learn such a sophisticated system of notation and analysis is simply not practical for many students, nor has it been practical for me as a tutor who has limited time with his students. Therefore, I have chosen to focus on this narrower method as a more efficient way for my students to gain many of the benefits of learning how to diagram sentences.

Read the handout “An Introduction to Sentence Analysis” for a detailed discussion of this method and a practice exercise with answer key. My handout on common prepositions may also be useful in learning this system and doing the exercises.