How do you feel about diagramming sentences?

I’m reading Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer.  Mr. Dreyer describes his book as “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.”   Since much of my professional life is now about writing, I thought it would be good to get some tips on the subject.  I’m learning a lot from this book. Right away I learned that I rely way too much on the various forms of the verb “is.”  So now I watch out for that.  For example, the entry for Wednesday of this week originally had a sentence that read: “The case is a good illustration of….”  I write sentences like that all the time, and Mr. Dreyer has convinced me that such sentences should be improved. So on Wednesday, you will not see that sentence.  Instead, you will find: “The case nicely illustrates…”

The Dreyer book got me thinking about things we learned in school that, to our utter amazement, we later found out were useful.  Who knew?!  For me, diagramming sentences comes to mind.  As I recall, much of 7th grade was devoted to this.  Sister Mary Holywater sometimes required us to do the diagramming on the blackboard, so that the rest of the kids could criticize our misplaced gerund or dangling participle.   Being kind of a nerdy kid, I secretly found diagramming sentences satisfying. It was like building a Lego set, only doing it with words that you had to unscramble and then put back together in a different format. But I thought we were spending a lot of time developing a skill that would have no useful application in the world. Can we move on to sex education, please?

Fast forward to the first year of law school as I attempt to untangle complex and overly long sentences in court cases and statutes.  Suddenly I realized that I was mentally back to that blackboard, discerning the meaning of the sentence by breaking it down to its parts: Look! There’s a subject!  Behold: a predicate!! Alas: methinks we’ve found an object!!!  The rest of it relatively irrelevant adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases.  It all diagrams!

What comes to mind for you?  This Friday on Zooming with the Dawg, we will dive into this spellbinding topic.  What did you learn in school that seemed completely irrelevant at the time, but that you now have come to value?  Something in science?  Don’t tell me it was math!  A poem? 

I will see if I can get a couple of friends from my law firm to join us.  We look forward to your input—Friday at 10. Zooming with the Dawg. If you’re not already registered for these gatherings, send a request to


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!