How to Parse a Sentence

On this site, I use the traditional grammar terms I learned growing up.  Anyone who has a basic grasp of the eight parts of speech can easily catch on to more “up-to-date” terms used in the modern classroom.

With Parsing, as with Analyzing, baby steps are best. Begin by parsing the sentences that the student has already analyzed. The student needs to know only two parts of speech at this point: noun and verb.

noun is a naming word. We need nouns in order to speak about people and things: boy, hat, kite, school, computer, grandfather. The name for everything we can see is a noun. Some nouns refer to things we can’t see, but which we can talk about: courage, honor, envy, idea.

verb is a word that enables us to talk about a noun. It may refer to an action: jump, play, work, bake, run. It may be a word like is that lets us say something about someone or something: Charlie is my brother. Alfred was King.

NOTE: Keep it simple. You can introduce the terms “being verbs” and “feeling verbs” later. At this point it’s enough to make it clear that although most verbs denote an action, not all verbs do.

As with analysis the learner draws a form on notebook paper with headings separated by a line:

Word | Kind

The sentence to be parsed is written down the page, one word on each line:

Birds

fly

NOTE: Don’t be afraid of boring a child with too many easy exercises. Easy exercises build confidence. When the learner can analyze and parse two-word sentences, you can proceed to sentences with adjectives.

Sentences with Adjectives

9 comments to How to Parse a Sentence

  • D.P.Bandyopadhyay

    In order to teach parsing take sentences of different types and show how to do parsing of each n every word…the sentences are to be chosen in such a way that all aspects of parsing are clarified as is given in j.c.nesfield, the famous book of grammar.

  • Haley

    You should leave a couple examples of sentences with the parsing and different types of speech

  • Maritza,
    You are right in that language is complex. And yes, a word like round can be more than one part of speech. But the different uses of a word like round are not exceptions. You said it yourself: a word can be a member of multiple categories, depending on how it’s used in a sentence That’s the whole point of analyzing and parsing. We can’t really say what part of speech a word is until it is used in a sentence. Then, we can look at the sentence and say, well, in this sentence round is being used as the subject so that means it’s a noun.

  • Maritza Flores

    After reading your article I noticed that the definition you have used for nouns and verbs is rather simplistic and does not account for “exceptions,” so to say. For most of us, we are drilled on grammar and the definition of the parts of speech since elementary school. However, the more I learn about language, the more I have come to realize it’s complexity and that the parts of speech are not all concrete and so many words can fall into different categories based on their use within the sentence. Yet the definitions don’t seem to show that.

    For example:
    Why don’t you come “round” for dinner?

    If we go by the definition that an adjective describes a word then round would be an adjective. However, in the sentence above, it’s an adverb. As well as in the sentence: It was supposed to work the other way “round.”

    In fact “round” can even be a noun.
    Ex: The next step will be a “round” of preliminary talks…
    It was agreed to hold the sixth “round” of talks in January 1982.
    We know they are nouns, not adjectives, because both are preceded by determiners (“a” and “the sixth”).

    “Round” can even be a preposition.
    Ex: He strode “round” the room, shouting ‘I am number one…
    This is a perspex tube that runs “round” the outside rim of the table…
    I like to think of prepositions as the location of the mouse in reference to the cheese. The mouse was “on” the cheese, “beside” the cheese, “under” the cheese, “next to” the cheese, etc.

    In conclusion, a word can be a member of multiple categories, depending on how it’s used in a sentence and if that little tid-bit of information is not mentioned then there will be a lot of grammar mistakes when it comes to parsing if a person writes “round” as an adjective because “it describes the noun” when it could be acting as an adverb.

    To this day I still have trouble with parsing because of what I was taught in elementary school pertaining to the parts of speech instead of learning why that word is in that category and what makes a noun a noun (if it can be pluralized, if a determiner precedes it, etc.). I think knowing the “why” and “how” of the different parts of speech will help with really knowing why a word is what it is in a certain sentence.

  • In Cassie Tuttle’s response, I began to parse ‘A pretty good start’. Start is a noun. Good is an adjective modifying it. Pretty conveys the sense of ‘how good’, quite good, reasonably good, so ‘pretty’ is an adverb modifying good. And ‘A’ of course is an article. Look forward to seeing more parsing here..

  • Tessa Simnovic

    this helped me a lot because here at Yale our english final exams are worth 85% of our final grade! so this helped my aaalot! thankyou
    Tessa

  • Nola Prins

    I have also just started study of TESOL and have found this article to be of great benefit. Understanding the concept is the very first step I think when studying this area. I must admit to having to “brush up” on my own English skills as one takes for granted the ability to speak and understand english with ease when one’s first language is english, however you do become complacent and forget the rules behind the english language.

    many thanks indeed for this article.

  • Sally Passmore

    I have only just started long distance study of TESOL and found this article to be a very good introduction! I am going to need lots of help even though I have taught English to English Frirst Language primary school children for 40 years.
    Thanks

  • I just completed my first class with a new ESL student (from South Korea). Her conversation skills are advanced (she is mostly self-taught), and she specifically wants to work on her writing skills. So your post is a timely one for me!

    I asked her to write down the most basic parts of a sentence. Her initial response was “words.” With some encouragement, she was able to come up with “noun,” “verb,” and “adjective.” A pretty good start, I think.

    One item she forgot to include was “punctuation.” As it turns it, this is going to be a major area of focus.

    And, in addition to parsing and punctuation, we’re going to work on expanding her vocabulary.

    All of these activities will help her acquire the skills she need to become a more sophisticated in her writing.