Monday, January 28, 2008

Diagramming Greek Sentences

Okay, I'll admit that when I was taught Greek, none of my teachers ever made us diagram sentences. We had to find subjects and verbs and in/direct objects and such, but we never had to draw those layouts like I did have to do when I was in grade school. (Remember? Here is a great refresher on diagramming English sentences.) So, I am wondering: Is it really important to have my students diagram sentences?
I raise this question, because I happened to read in the Logos newsgroup about a Koineworks Diagramming program you can buy, and some people look like they got pretty excited about it. Now if I should be so moved to diagram, I thought I would check and see what I can do in the software I already have. I will use 1 Corinthians 13.13 as an example. (BTW, did you see that I used Sean Boisen's BibleRef citation mentioned in a previous post?)

First, here is the Sentence Diagramming tool in BibleWorks7.
It was easy to import the verse, and then it was a matter of dragging/dropping the sentence elements which were nicely described on the left panel (only partially displayed above), and then dragging/dropping the words down onto the diagram. I found it rather difficult placing items precisely, and it was hard to resize the diagram elements.
Second, here is the Sentence Diagramming Tool in Logos3. Text imported very nicely, and as an additional bonus, it came in with sentence parts of speech color-coded. There is not as big of a collection of diagram elements as compared to BW7, and you have to hover over an element to see what it is. I suppose if I did this regularly and became familiar with the elements that might not be so important.
So, great, I diagram the sentence, and maybe it makes me think a bit longer about the appositional phrase ("these three things"). I also note the contrast between the diagram order which emphasizes the linear order of subject > verb as compared to the actual word order where αγαπη has the dramatic position at the end. I also realize that I have to add the verb of being, and it is at least interesting to consider, given the now/future contrasts Paul has been using in verses 8-12, that the verb supplied should maybe a "will be" instead of "be." I say maybe the diagramming makes me think more about these things...
BUT, did I need to bother to do the diagramming myself anyway? BibleWorks7 has a complete set of diagrams already included. (Right click on the Greek text in the browse window and choose "Open NT diagram at this word.") It looks like this:
That looks better than my diagram!
offers two or three pre-diagrammed options. Here is what the Lexham Clausal Outlines of the Greek New Testament looks like:

Logos3 also has the Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament (though it is not yet complete for the whole NT) which looks like this:
(I'm not sure just how helpful that one is...)
Additionally, Logos3 also includes the Syntactically Analyzed Greek NT:
This really provides a deep level of sentence analysis, and I need to study it more to understand and utilize it.
You can also go to the site itself and find two additional visual analyses of the text. Here is the clause one:
And here is the word group one:
That makes a total of 7 pre-diagrammed visualizations before us. Which of these is most helpful? I kind of think that
the Lexham Clausal Outlines of the Greek New Testament gives the overall structure of the sentence most quickly. If I wanted a little more detail, the 'old school' layout used in BW7 helps me most. The greatest advantage of the syntactic diagrams offered in Logos3 is the ability to do sophisticated syntax searches on them. SO, back to my originating questions.

  • How helpful do you find diagramming Greek sentences?
  • Is it really best to diagram them yourself? Or should one use one of the many diagramming possibilities already available?
  • Which of the pre-diagrammed possibilities looks most helpful to you?


  1. MGVH,
    I was the one who posted about the Koine works software on the logos newsgroup.

    I was excited because the software is a kind of "diagramming tutor" software; not a diagram creation software.

    I'm looking for ways to understand syntax/sentence structure more than i currently do, so there you go.

    As to your question; at this point how helpful would it be to diagram them myself when I could just go to a website or the software and get them pre-made?

    I think that the value is in the learning...the doing. at least at this stage for me.

    When I become as fluent as you in the Greek language (If I ever do that is) then I probably will not need to do my own diagramming...


  2. Hi, Bob! Thanks for your comments and your clarification that Koineworks is a diagramming tutor program.
    You are no doubt correct in claiming that there is value in the actual doing of the diagramming, and I don't think that is a matter of Greek fluency or not.
    I could be clearer that I am thinking more in terms of time. With unlimited time, I think it would be good to diagram every sentence myself, but for myself and especially for my students, I don't know if it is worth the time. With the limited Greek instruction time we already have, I don't know that I want to teach sentence diagramming. Is it worth the time? I do think for my students it probably is worth the time to quick check a diagram just so they can more quickly find subject/verb/object. As I mentioned, it was never part of my Greek instruction, but I am always looking for a more excellent way!

  3. There is some use in looking at diagrams for learning, but in my opinion the real value is in the doing. It makes you think about the structure of the language in a different (and good) way. I don't do much diagramming on paper anymore. It's mostly just something I do in my head. However, when I come across a particularly difficult chuck of text, I will sometimes diagram it to help me get my head around it.

    He is correct about KWD. It is entirely tutorial. If either of you have questions about it feel free to ask me, since I created the program :)

  4. Hey, Eric, thanks for checking in. Very cool that we get word directly from the KWD creator. I'm pretty much with you in terms of doing most of the diagramming in my head but only actually doing some scribbling when the sentence is complex. If I'm in a hurry, I jump to the pre-diagrammed resources.
    I've been checking with some of my Greek students. It appears that most of the younger ones would first need to have some instruction in diagramming English sentences. It doesn't seem that it is being taught much anymore in school...

  5. Thanks, but I'm really not that cool :)

    In my experience the lack of English sentence diagramming is not a major hurdle. It's the lack of knowledge about English grammar more specifically that really makes diagramming (and understanding Greek) more difficult. And that is definitely something lacking in the typical American education.

    Teacher: "Okay, so put the direct object on the baseline to the right of the verb."
    Student: "What's a direct object?"
    Teacher: groan...

    I was that student in college. I learned English grammar well when I took Greek, not before. Of course, doing English sentence diagramming beforehand would help.

  6. I will only add that I too, have been having to teach myself English grammar at 48 years of age!

    Do you want me to make you feel better? Dr. James-"I don't even own an English bible"-White, couldn't even spell the word grammar when he was in school and look at him today!

    There is hope for us mortals...

  7. Hi, I took Greek in Bible College and learned diagramming, but it was only mechanical. One needs to understand how to relate the Greek into English diagramming. What does it say in English, word for word, not thought for thought. 1 Tim 4:10 is a example of the adverb ESPECIALLY. English is the key that unlocks the Greek NT.