Analyzing and Parsing Sentences with Adjectives

When the learner can confidently analyze and parse such sentences as Birds fly and Dogs bark, the teacher can add adjectives.

The little dog barked.

A huge balloon burst.

Twenty-five swift horses galloped.

A beautiful blue jewel sparkled.


The analysis terms Simple Subject and Complete Subject are introduced at this time.

If the subject contains only one word, that word is both Simple Subject and Complete Subject.

Subject | Predicate

Birds | fly

Birds is the Simple Subject and the Complete Subject.

When the Subject column contains more than one word, the student learns to distinguish between the simple and complete subjects.

The Complete Subject is what we are talking about plus all the words that tell us more about it.

The Simple Subject is the main word that names what it is we are talking about.

Subject | Predicate

The little dog | barked

In this example the complete subject is The little dog; the simple subject is dog. Have the student underline the simple subject.


Now the learner is ready for the term adjective.

An adjective tells more about a noun. An adjective describes a noun in regard to such qualities as number, color, texture and weight:

two boys

red sign

fuzzy blanket

heavy box

Because adjectives tell about qualities, they are said to qualify nouns. Nowadays certain words that used to be classed as adjectives are placed in a separate category called “determiners.” For example:a dog, the dog, this dog, that dog. In these examples the words a, the, this and that point out the noun, but do not qualify it in any way so they are not felt to be true adjectives. 

As far as I’m concerned, they’re all adjectives because they all come before the noun and are attached to it in a descriptive way. I accept either term for these words. However, it is important that the student learn the terms definite article and indefinite article for the and a/an.

NOTE: In my days as a foreign language teacher, I saw too many students reach high school and the first year of college without knowing the most basic grammar terms. Teachers of French, Spanish and other foreign languages should not have to spend the first six weeks reviewing basic English grammar.

Children are capable of mastering basic English grammar by the completion of the eighth grade at the latest. There is no excuse for a ninth grader to be ignorant of the parts of speech. For a high school senior or a college freshman to require remediation in grammar is a symptom of the grossest educational malpractice.

A special kind of adjective

The word the is called the definite article.

Both a and an are called the indefinite article. The form an is used in front of a word that begins with a vowel sound.

NOTE: It is enough in the early stages of grammar instruction for the student to recognize the articles and to know which is which. Their uses can emerge as instruction progresses.

When explaining the difference between a and an, make sure the student knows the meaning of the terms consonant and vowel.

At this stage of instruction the student writes only the part of speech in the “Kind” column. Later on the student will also indicate the function of each word. Ex. little | adjective qualifying “dog”

Have your student spell the part of speech completely the first time it appears during the day’s parsing exercise. After a term has been spelled out once, the longer terms, like adjective, may be abbreviated.

Word  | Kind

A  |  indefinite article

beautiful |  adjective

blue  |  adj.

jewel  |   noun

sparkled  |   verb

The abbreviations should be the standard forms and have a period at the end.

Thought for the Day

Children do not learn to spell the words they use by memorizing weekly spelling lists. They do not learn the rules of punctuation by doing a few exercises out of a grammar book. They learn these things by using them in their daily work—day after day after day. Let adults fret about “saving time.” Children should be taught to take the time necessary for true learning. They should be taught to take pains over their work.

Next: Analyzing and Parsing Sentences with Adverbs

2 Responses

  1. Mary,
    By itself, “united” is an adjective, as in, “The employees were united in choosing to form a union.”

    “United States,” however, is a noun. You would parse both words together, as a proper noun.

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