First Steps in Latin Sentence Diagramming

Over the last year or so, my original post on Latin sentence diagramming has gotten more views than I ever expected, so I guess y’all are interested in this topic just like I am. I learned sentence diagramming with my own English language, of course, but it was such a useful tool in my mental toolbox that I’ve always wanted to apply it to Latin. Here is a “nuts-and-bolts” introduction to the very basics of sentence diagramming this beautiful language.

Subject + Verb

The first thing to do when diagramming a sentence is look for the subject. In Latin, find the subject by 1) looking for the nominative case ending on a noun or pronoun, 2) as well as by looking for the main verb. (The number and person of the verb will naturally match the number of and fit with the case of the noun it “governs.”)

To diagram, then, write the subject first, and follow it with a vertical line crossing through and going below the sentence base line. This divides it from its verb, which you will write on the right side.

This seems simple enough. However, sentence diagramming was invented by Americans, for the modern English language, which is different from Latin in SO many ways. We must be ready to see invisible words when diagramming Latin.

Quite often when diagramming Latin sentences, there is actually no subject noun or pronoun present, alas for diagramming! What? Yes. This is because in Latin the verb’s endings always contain the subject. So the sentence with just a verb contains an implied subject.

The traditional way to indicate that there is an implied subject is to use an “x” in place of the subject.

However, I think it is more useful for diagramming a second language to include the implied subject in parentheses.

That’s what I do, anyway. And a lot of it, too, because of those dandy verbs!

Here are some sentences for you to try (look carefully–word order varies!): Christus vincit. (Christus regnat. Christus imperat!) Veritas manet. Erat Verbum.

Subject, Verb, + Object

This is the basis for what you will be diagramming in almost all of your sentences (you will just add more lines all over the place with more wordy sentences). We get a new kind of line for this construction: a vertical line passing through only the top half of the sentence right after the verb indicates the beginning of the space for the (direct) object.

Here are some for you to try (again, word order varies here!): Dominus fecit caelum. Magnificat anima Dominum. (Ego or “x”) sustinui te.

Subject, Verb, + Subjective Complement

The subjective complement may be a noun or an adjective after a (linking) verb. “The Lord is good” or “We were wicked” are English examples. To diagram this type of sentence, after the the verb, use a slanted line that ends at the base line to provide the space for the complement (which can be either a noun or an adjective).

Here are some for you to try (word order varies!): Angeli sunt boni. Dominus Deus est. (Ego or x) Laeta sum. Pleni sunt caeli.

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Factum bene! These are just the very first steps to sentence diagramming. Of course there’s way more to know–where to put adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, clauses, apposatives, vocatives…but these are the very basics that will get you started. (For more information on diagramming Latin, see this site.) I hope it was interesting, and fun, too. Keep this mental tool handy when you really want to get inside the grammar of a sentence!

8 thoughts on “First Steps in Latin Sentence Diagramming

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    1. It’s fun–just like a grammatical x-ray for sentences. And once you get started you just can’t stop! 😉

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  1. Love this site and your diagrams! But I don’t think you diagrammed “lux luceat eis” correctly – “eis” is not the direct object but indirect, the dative 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your kind words! I had noticed the dative case when I diagrammed, but I believed that “eis” is the direct object of “luceat” although in the dative case. (Several verbs interestingly have their objects in the dative, although it is usually used for indirect objects.) In other words, I could not think what the direct object of the phrase would be if “eis” is not it?

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      1. My understanding is that you can only have a direct object to the right of the verb (aside from a predicate nominative of course). Some verbs take a dative object, but that doesn’t make them a direct object. These verbs have just a dative/indirect object and not necessarily also a direct object.

        Btw, in case you haven’t come across this, I strongly recommend this website: http://www.german-latin-english.com/latin_diagrams.htm
        This guy has diagrammed a ton of Latin sentences!

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  2. This is a perfect way to pay attention to the noun endings and thus learn them as they function rather than just by rote. I’ll so some of this each day. Many thanks for a great site. Michael

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    1. Oh, good! I hope that you have lots of fun with diagramming–I certainly have always enjoyed tinkering with sentences this way!

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