A couple decades ago when I was in middle school in Colorado, I was briefly taught to diagram sentences using the Reed-Kellogg system. I have heard that the practice of teaching sentence diagramming in schools in North America has fallen out of favor. But at Youtube, one finds numerous videos instructing one how to produce them. I am currently writing an introduction to a translation of Lucien Tesnière's The Elements of Structural Syntax. Tesnière's stemmas are similar to the Reed-Kellogg diagrams in a major respect. I am therefore interested in learning about the extent to which the Reed-Kellogg diagrams are still taught in schools in North America and elsewhere.

Does anyone know the extent to which the art of diagramming sentences is still taught in schools today? Is the practice gaining or losing? Thanks.

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    I was taught it in grade school in the 1950s (though I didn't learn it was "Reed-Kellogg" until much later), and there are still sporadic places where it's taught, mostly by individual teachers, rather than as a matter of curriculum. It is certain that sentence diagramming is not part of any standard elementary curriculum in the U.S, though it used to be. It really can't be revived, however, because so few teachers understand English grammar that it would take a generation of concerted effort to bring it back, and that's never going to happen.
    – jlawler
    Dec 1, 2013 at 19:50
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    I (educated at a private school in the UK in the 60's-70's) had never heard of sentence diagramming until I encountered questions about it on the Internet on a site like this one a few years ago. The idea of some sort of parse diagram made sense, of course, but I was startled to find that to many Americans there was one specific way to do it.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 1, 2013 at 20:44
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    The Reed-Kellogg diagramming system, shown here utexas.edu/courses/langling/e360k/handouts/diagrams/…, seems clumsy to me. Dec 2, 2013 at 1:15
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    @James Grossmann, clumsy or not, the interesting thing from my point of view as a DG guy is that those old diagrams combine dependency and constituency. They are manifestations of a hybrid system. Constituency is present in the initial binary division into subject and predicate, and dependency is present in the manner in which modifiers are attached to and dangle from their heads. Dec 2, 2013 at 1:35
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    Yes, that's true. But it's not really a viable hybrid, since it has many of the bad features of both systems. If one were to go to the trouble of reviving it, there'd be no reason to use the original R-K system. More has been learned since it was developed. Much more. And it's no use without some education in the actual language (i.e, its pronunciation) and related matters.
    – jlawler
    Dec 2, 2013 at 2:59

4 Answers 4


As someone who attended and worked at a couple of universities in the UK and Germany, I dare say that Reed-Kellogg diagrams are almost unheard of in Europe.

From my school days in the German Democratic Republic (DDR) I do remember the practice of underlining parts of sentences in different colours for subject, object(s) and compound predicate. As the German compound predicate (or, as we called it, Prädikatsverband) can be discontinuous, a two-dimensional diagram might have been more appropriate than this one-dimensional technique.


Anecdotal here, but when I was in school in the late 1990's/early 2000's we spent a day or two on these once, although I can't remember what grade it was or who the teacher was (a lot of my English teachers were older, so they might have had to learn it in the 40's or 50's when they were in school). I remember thinking they were kind of cool but kind of confusing, and most kids had a really hard time with them.

Judging from the difficulty many Intro Ling students have with identifying things like prepositions and determiners/articles, my sense is that this type of stuff isn't really taught now in the K-12 system, unless it's on some state standardized test or the SAT. It seems to me most of the test-prep is centered on vocabulary words, particularly low-frequency ones.


The practice is gaining among classical grammar academies in America. I teach grammar every week to 8th graders and we diagram sentences with every lesson. We use a curriculum by Robin Finley, called Analytical Grammar. It is the most comprehensive grammar program I've ever used. I've taught English for over twenty years. We started reviving the lost art of sentence diagrams about 15 years ago in our little school. I disagree with the earlier poster who lamented the notion that teachers who understand grammar is an idea that "is never going to happen." It's happening. But it is not yet widespread.


I learned Reed-Kellogg diagramming in high school, Ohio, in the late 50s. In teaching the elements of linguistic syntax to students over the years, from 1968 to 2010, I've never encountered one that gave any indication of knowing about this method of diagramming. It's dead.

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