How to Analyze Sentence Structure

Analyzing the structure of a sentence, also known as parsing a sentence, is the act of looking at a sentence to determine its components. The components of the sentence are what deliver the information we need to understand what a sentence is telling us. While this may seem inconsequential to some, analyzing sentences is an effective way to teach and learn better syntax, which aids in better reading skills and more effective communication.

Read your sentence and find the subject and predicate. These are the most basic components of a sentence and easy to identify. Think of the subject as the doer of the sentence and the predicate as a description of what is being done. All complete sentences have a subject and predicate. In the example "I write sentences," the subject is "I" and "write sentences " is the predicate. This is one of the easiest components to locate. The predicate contains a verb or verb phrase that explains what the subject of the sentence is doing.

Identify more complex elements in a sentence. The simple sentence above might be written as "I write sentences on a piece of paper." This contains not only the subject and predicate, now it contains a prepositional phrase as well, which further adds detail. The prepositional phrase "on a piece of paper" tells readers where something is done. Now the sentence answers the questions who, what and where.

Read the sentence for a clause. Some clauses contain their own subject and verb. These can be separate sentences, interrupted by periods or semicolons. They are called independent clauses. A clause dependent on another part of the sentence is typically set off by commas. Clauses that are independent can be connected with a comma followed by a conjunction (and, but) or may be cast as a sentence on its own.

Identify modifiers in your sentence. In the example sentence, "I write sentences on a piece of paper," the word blue could be added before the word "paper." Blue modifies the word paper, telling us something more about the paper. Always check to make sure the modifier is as close to the object it identifies as possible.

Identify problems with sentence structure. Incomplete sentences and misplaced or dangling modifiers can muddy a clear sentence. For instance, recast the example sentence as "On a piece of paper, I write." The first problem is starting the sentence with a prepositional phrase. By placing the phrase here, the reader may be led to believe the subject of the sentence is a piece of paper. This is sloppy structure.

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