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Author Topic: Sentence diagramming
rickfisher
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I was doing a little pratice sentence-diagramming and found this sentence (the first sentence of Frederica, by Georgette Heyer).
quote:
Not more than five days after she had despatched an urgent missive to her brother, the Most Honourable the Marquis of Alverstoke, requesting him to visit her at his earliest convenience, the widowed Lady Buxted was relieved to learn from her youngest daughter that Uncle Vernon had just driven up to the house, wearing a coat with dozens of capes, and looking as fine as fivepence.
I got most of it diagrammed pretty well, I think, but I'm really uncertain about exactly how to handle the first phrase, "Not more than five days". I think "than" is supposed to be a subordinating conjunction, but for the life of me I can't think of how "five days" can be elliptical for any clause. Any ideas? Kolona?

If anyone wants to see my diagram, let me know and I'll email it.


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MaryRobinette
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Wouldn't this diagram really be a picture of a praying mantis?

Wow. Practise sentence diagramming. I don't think I've done that since I was in school. I'm not sure I even remember how.


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Beth
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ahahaha praying mantis!

also how much do I love it that Rick Fisher diagrams sentences voluntarily for practice?

I wish I had the answer.


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Minister
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You da man! Practice sentence diagramming indeed. I last did that to any extent with Greek, back in seminary (I guess that really wasn't all that long ago, though it seems like it sometimes.)

Since the whole clause functions adverbially (dealing with time), I'd probably try to diagram it that way; no point in getting carried away. You may even want to consider some portion of that first clause to be a colloquialism, not functioning according to normal grammatical rules, for the sake of simplicity (if that doesn't offend your sense of diagramming propriety, of course.) That is a doozy, though. More power to you.


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djvdakota
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I've learned to RE-hate sentence diagramming--by trying to teach it to my kids. UGH!!

You really do it for fun?

But who am I to talk. I worked my way through a second-hand college Algebra book just for fun.


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Jeraliey
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I think a part of the problem is that it seems like you're trying to separate "Not more than five days" from the rest of the adverbial phrase. But I haven't diagrammed sentences since fifth grade.
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Kolona
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Wow. That's a tough one, Rick. I'm wondering if the whole 'not more than five days' goes with 'after' on the dotted connecting line as the conjunction between the two main clauses -- kind of like 'even though,' insofar as it is more than one word. I'm tempted to put lines off the dotted line, but I don't think I've ever seen that done. Minister may be on the right track with the colloquialism angle, and the problem phrase might be treated as an interjection or expletive, just hovering above the diagram.

Gotta get to bed, but will mull it around. Love to see how you handled it. Feel free to send your diagram. (Actually, I'm curious how you'll do that. I still can't open zipped files, so I hope you don't have to compress it that way. )

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited January 27, 2006).]


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ChrisOwens
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This is why I zoned out in English during middle and high school. I loved literature, but hated grammar.

This is not your homework is it?


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rickfisher
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quote:
Wouldn't this diagram really be a picture of a praying mantis?
That's pretty close, Mrs. Kowal. Did you secretly diagram this yourself to see? Actually, though, it looks more like two praying mantises, making love, who got run over by a car.
quote:
also how much do I love it that Rick Fisher diagrams sentences voluntarily for practice?
Well, Beth (and dakota and Chris), I have to confess that I have ulterior motives. I'm trying to make a meager living by tutoring, and I'm also homeschooling my son, so I have reasons for knowing the stuff. On the other hand, I have to admit that it was sort of fun.

Minister, Jeraliey and Kolona: I agree it's adverbial, and modifies "after" (having it come off the dotted line is exactly what I did, Kolona). But "than" I treated as a preposition. All the grammarians (at least all the ones I know of) will say that it isn't. It's "I'm taller than he" rather than "I'm taller than him" because "than" is a subordinating conjunction attached to the clause "he (is)" ("is" being understood), rather than a preposition with "him" as its object. I can't figure out how to force "than five days" into that mold--but it feels to me perfectly grammatical, rather than colloquial. Maybe that's just because I've heard the construction often enough that it seems right. But what I'd really like would be to force some old-fashioned, really stiff-necked grammarian to say, "Oh. Well, maybe 'than' can be a preposition, after all."

Kolona, it'll be a .jpg picture file, no compression necessary. I'll send it pronto.

[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited January 27, 2006).]


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wbriggs
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Lady Buxted | was \ relieved
^widowed | ^to | learn \ that...
^the | ^from|daughter
|(not more...) ^youngest
^her


It's clunky but "more than" functions the same as "over," which is a preposition

more than| days
^ not ^after| (she...)
^five

I think the use your English teachers were thinking of for "than" is different.

I'm taller than he is really I'm taller than he (is tall). But More than five days surely isn't More than five days (is more) !


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krazykiter
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Might I suggest that "not more than" is a phrase acting as an adverb modifying "five", which is functioning as an adjective to "days".
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MaryRobinette
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quote:
Actually, though, it looks more like two praying mantises, making love, who got run over by a car.

Mr. Fisher, you have made me laugh out loud. The real question, in regards to this sentence, is: did the female praying mantis bite his head off already? I think that is the clause in question.

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rickfisher
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I'm afraid the evidence is unclear. The only possible way to find out, at this point, is to find the driver of the car. Maybe he noticed.

I like the "more than" equaling "over" idea. I agree it functions that way. Does that make it a legitimate use? I couldn't find anything saying "more than" could be considered a two-word preposition. (By the way, I hope I'm not giving the impression that I'm a stick-in-the-mud grammarian. I would HATE that. It's just a case of wanting to break the rules knowingly vs. unknowingly.)

[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited January 27, 2006).]


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Kolona
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I couldn't view Rick's whole diagram at one time, so I have no input about praying mantises, but my diagram ended up looking like the Starship Enterprise. Loosely, of course. Unlike the talented Mr. Fisher, I can't seem to transmit the thing.

That sounds good, krazykiter, until you try to diagram the phrase, "not more than." 'Than' is the problem. It's either a conjunction or a preposition.

I can see 'than' as a preposition in the phrase. However, it bothers me that ‘than’ isn’t commonly used as a preposition. In fact, one of my dictionaries claims that “Than is sometimes considered a preposition in one phrase, than whom: an eminent judge than whom no other is more just.” One phrase. Talk about limited. Yet an Internet source states that “Than is a conjunction or preposition used in unequal comparisons.”

If we grant our problem phrase its space off the dotted line reserved for the conjunction ‘after’ (Like Rick, I cannot conceive of any other place for it.), there is an unequal comparison if we supply an inferred word, namely, another ‘days,’ as in 'Not more (days) than five days after....' We can then diagram the phrase as a compound construction, with ‘than’ on the dotted line joining the two elements: ‘more (days)’ modified by ‘Not,’ and ‘days’ modified by ‘five.’

(Reading this stuff without a diagram will make you crazy. )

You did well, Rick. That wasn't an easy one. I had to brush up on this stuff to get through it. And...I learned that 'despatch' is a form of 'dispatch.' I kept wanting to correct it.

I just might be a stick-in-the-mud grammarian type. But there are worse things. When I think of one, I'll let you know.

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited January 27, 2006).]


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Minister
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You guys do realize that you can diagram fairly quickly in Word, using the drawing tool combined with the text box function, once you get the hang of it? It took me a while to get the hang of doing it quickly, but it was worth the time spent in the first Greek class. And then you can save and transmit your diagrams as Word documents, rather than jpegs. (Note my completely gratuitous use of the word "than.")
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Kolona
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Diagram on Word, you say? I tried to do it in the Paint function, but couldn't get the text to run angled and vertically. Gotta try this.
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krazykiter
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quote:
}That sounds good, krazykiter, until you try to diagram the phrase, "not more than." 'Than' is the problem. It's either a conjunction or a preposition.

I'd say "more than" is acting as a preposition. Replace it with "over". Meaning is identical,and over is definitely a preposition. I would diagram the two words together wherever "over" ends up. Prepositional phrases can act as adverbs (which is what we need for this to make sense) while conjunctions don't.

I don't see "after" as a conjunction, however. The point of the sentence is that the woman was relieved AFTER she had sent her message, which makes "after" the preposition and "She had despatched..." its object.

[This message has been edited by krazykiter (edited January 28, 2006).]


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Minister
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quote:
couldn't get the text to run angled and vertically.

I usually don't bother with trying to get the text to line up vertically or at angles; that makes it harder to read, so I make the lines however they need to be and leave the text horizontal. I'm not sure if you can change the angles of the text boxes in Word, but I think you can. Hmmm. Just went to check, and it turns out you can't, at least not in any simple way I can see. Sorry.


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rickfisher
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quote:
The point of the sentence is that the woman was relieved AFTER she had sent her message, which makes "after" the preposition and "She had despatched..." its object.

The objects of prepositions are always nouns (or pronouns). "She had despatched..." is a clause, hence it is connected to "Lady Buxted was relieved..." by a conjunction, in this case a subordinating conjunction, since "after she had despatched..." is a subordinate or dependent clause.

[Edit:] I don't mean to make the above sound as though it should have been obvious, by the way. "After" can be a preposition, and a clause can act as a noun. The entire subject is rather messy. For a clause to serve as a noun, however, it has to be introduced by an indefinite relative pronoun, indefinite relative adjective, or indefinite relative adverb. "She had despatched..." has no such introductory word. An example of "after" as a preposition with a noun clause following would be: "Give the money to the first person you see after whenever you hear a train whistle blow." Although I can't think of a better example, it's a pretty crummy sentence. It'd be far better to drop the "whenever" and let "after" be a subordinating conjunction. [End edit.]

If "than" has to be a subordinating conjunction, then it doesn't matter if it's meaning is the same as "over". It's a sad fact of English that meaning is not enough to determine function. For example, the word "cooked" in "Those hamburgers are cooked" means the same thing as the same word in "Those hamburgers are being cooked." But in the first case it's a predicate adjective, and in the other a verb.

Personally, I have few compunctions about using "than" as a preposition, except in formal writing. But I'd like to know whether strict grammarians would say that the sentence in question is ungrammatical, or whether they would come up with some way to make a clause out of that phrase. At this point, it's more a matter of curiosity than anything else.

I appreciate all the responses to a rather dull question. And Kolona, thanks especially for your expertise.

[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited January 29, 2006).]


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Kolona
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Sorry to disappoint you, Rick, but my “expertise” is a little off. The unequal comparison I did was not quite right. I have ‘more’ on the top line of the compound construction with the inferred ‘days’ in parentheses. It should probably be only ‘(days),’ the inferred noun by itself on that line, modified by the adjective ‘more,’ which in turn is modified by the adverb, ‘not.’ The rest of the construction remains: the other ‘days’ on the bottom comparison line, modified by ‘five,’ and the conjunction ‘than’ spanning the two on a dotted line. (Without a diagram, I know that’s hard to follow. Sorry.)

Having written that, however, I’m stymied by the fact that I’m using a subordinating conjunction, ‘than,’ to connect words rather than clauses, not something a subordinating conjunction is supposed to do. Yet I cannot get all the elements in the sentence to fit except that way, especially the ‘not.’

So I think Rick is right: ‘than’ is a preposition here, branching off of 'more,' which modifies 'after,' with 'not' modifying 'more.' That way, ‘days’ is the object of 'than,' modified by ‘five.’ Yes. That way, the only questionable move is having anything come off ‘after’s’ dotted line, but, though I have found no samples supporting it, I find no rules against it. So, Rick, you’re the one with the expertise here.

I see where you’re coming from, krazykiter, but ‘after’ cannot be a preposition in this sentence. While it’s true some prepositions can have a clause as an object (In “The travelers had an argument about where they would stay,” the preposition ‘about’ has ‘they would stay where’ as its object.), a small number of prepositions have some restrictions. From http://grammar.uoregon.edu/conjunctions/prep_conj.html:

quote:
The subordinating conjunctions BEFORE, AFTER and UNTIL can act as prepositions when then are followed by objects rather than dependent clauses.

After that effort, everyone doubts whether she can win.
....
After she did so badly, everyone doubted whether she could win.
...


On another site, they listed ‘as’ with ‘before, after and until’ and another conjunction as well I think, that are limited in this way. In our sentence, ‘after’ is followed by a clause, which makes it a conjunction.

You say the point of the sentence is that the woman was relieved after she had sent her message. Respectfully, I don’t agree. It wasn’t the sending of the message that relieved the Lady Buxten, but her learning that Uncle Vernon had arrived. When you trim the sentence, it becomes clearer:
After she had dispatched an urgent missive, Lady Buxten was relieved to learn that Uncle Vernon had just driven up.
Our problem phrase, ‘not more than five days after,’ merely gives us a time frame, not a reason for the Lady’s relief.

Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that ‘over’ and ‘more than’ are identical in meaning and can replace each other. Apparently, this is a subject of some contention in the greater world. I found this on the Internet at http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/nonerrors.html:

quote:
OVER VS. MORE THAN.
Some people claim that “over” cannot be used to signify “more than,” as in “Over a thousand baton-twirlers marched in the parade.” “Over,” they insist, always refers to something physically higher: say, the blimp hovering over the parade route. This absurd distinction ignores the role metaphor plays in language. If I write 1 on the blackboard and 10 beside it, 10 is still the “higher” number. “Over” has been used in the sense of “more than” for over a thousand years.

My two cents is that ‘more than’ and ‘over’ are similar, but not identical, and not necessarily interchangeable. ‘Not over five days after she had dispatched...’ doesn’t read as well as ‘Not more than five days after she had dispatched.’ And ‘over’ doesn’t accommodate the unequal comparison that ‘more than’ does, because you can’t add the inferred word, ‘days:’
not more (days) than five days
not over (days) five days

There seems to be a difference between the two, but I don’t think it’s critical to our problem sentence.

Whether we use ‘more than’ or ‘over,’ if they’re used as a preposition here, then ‘days’ is the object of the prepositional phrase, modified by ‘five.’ But what do we do with ‘not?’ It’d have to modify the preposition, 'more than' or 'over,' which is not on an adverb’s list of words to modify.

In the Lady Buxten sentence, the adverb, ‘not,’ can modify ‘more’ if ‘more’ is an adverb or adjective, but not if it’s a noun – or preposition, as far as I can tell. Unless you add the inferred word (the extra ‘days’) for ‘more’ to modify and thus make ‘more’ an adjective, then ‘more’ is a noun – and that won’t work. So we're back to Rick's solution of making 'than' the preposition. That way, 'not' can modify 'more.'

Does anyone besides me think the sentence could have been better written in the first place?

--edited to reflect Rick's solution more accurately.

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited January 29, 2006).]


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rickfisher
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The thing that bothered me most on reading it was the appositive, which, while perfectly grammatical, seemeed ambiguous. (abbreviated): "Not more than five days after she had despatched a missive to her brother, the Most Honourable...." Okay, not ambiguous; there's only one meaningful way to read it. But I was expecting "she" to be identified at that point, and so I stumbled over it. But at least that part was fairly easy to diagram.

[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited January 29, 2006).]


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Kolona
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Good point. I think Ms. Heyer should have gone with two sentences:

The widowed Lady Buxted despatched an urgent missive to her brother, the Most Honourable the Marquis of Alverstoke, requesting him to visit her at his earliest convenience. Less than five days later, she was relieved to learn from her youngest daughter that Uncle Vernon had just driven up to the house, wearing a coat with dozens of capes, and looking as fine as fivepence.

I'd still like to trim some of that, but I'm guessing it's a style thing.


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Survivor
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It's also a scene thing. You would have her perform an action in simple past tense, then skip forwards five days to her next action. The sentance as it is case sets the scene five days after an "off-stage event" and has smoother narrative flow, even if the syntax seems a bit complex.

I wouldn't really have done anything other than moving ", the Most Honourable the Marquis of Alverstoke" to follow "Uncle Vernon" rather than "her brother". I feel that does two things. First, it eliminates a possible source of confusion (I was expecting Lady Buxted's formal identifier to appear after the next comma). Second, it increases the tendancy of the sentance as a whole to sweep into a grander depiction of events.

Usually, I would simply suggest that "Lady Buxted" replace the first "she", but that would disrupt the rise in society which characterizes the form of the sentance as it currently exists and it would necessitate mentioning her name twice to avoid confusion.

I sympathize with the desire to chop this sentance down, though. I wouldn't pull a stunt like this myself, not in something intended for publication.


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Kolona
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The context of the sentence probably bears you out, Survivor, but I'd still jettison the "Not more than five days after." Actually, the way it reads, it could have been simply "Five days after" since five days is not more than five days.

But then, Heyer has a book published and I don't. Ah well.

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited January 30, 2006).]


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Survivor
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Like I said, making the sentance that long is a stunt. But if you grant the stunt, you have to leave well enough alone and only criticize what can be improved without any change in meaning or intent.

"Not more than" adds the minor implication that exceeding five days would have had some kind of consequences. So the phrase does add a tidbit of meaning/tension, even though she probably just stuck it in to be wordy.


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J
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Threads like this are why this forum is great.
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Kolona
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Sentence diagramming has that power.
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