#Diagramming challenge No. 3 (sentence and answer)

For our third sentence to diagram, we’ll get more complicated with a sentence that uses layers of recursion. In language, recursion basically means that we can embed – and keep embedding – clauses or phrases within a sentence while still maintaining grammaticality and comprehensibility.

It’s easier just to show an example:

Scene from “The Princess Bride”

There are four subject-verb pairs in this short and memorable sentence: “I think,” “it means,” “you think” and “it means” (again). Four! So this is going to make for a tricky diagram, but I think we can do it.

First, the main clause: “I do not think.” The direct object of “think” is the rest of the sentence, which means we need a little platform to stick that whole mess into the direct-object spot.

Then we have an understood “that,” so it floats in parentheses above the second clause. “Means” takes a predicate nominative, so we need a slanted line here instead of the perpendicular one we use for a direct object. The predicate is again the rest of the sentence, so another platform, another clause as object, another understood “that.” The “what” finally ends up as the predicate nominative of the second “means”: Word order is one area where traditional diagramming has a bit of a shortcoming.

Here we go: “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

"I do not think it means what you think it means" sentence diagram


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