How do you parse a sentence? For example, parse this sentence: "When I married my wife, she was a teacher, but she later became an accountant after she took a degree course in accounting."

Parsing a sentence means examining all of the component parts of a sentence, determining how those parts work together to create the intended meaning. It is first helpful to identify what type of sentence is being examined (simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex) and then to identify whether the sentence is declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, or imperative. Then, classify each word's part of speech, which can usually be further classified by type and function.

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To parse a sentence, you must analyze each of its component parts, examining the nature of its clauses, the parts of speech and grammatical functions of it words, and the relationships between its words.

The sentence “When I married my wife, she was a teacher, but she later became an accountant after she took a degree course in accounting” is a compound-complex sentence because it has two independent and two dependent clauses. A compound-complex sentence must have at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. The independent clauses can stand alone: “she was a teacher” and “she later became an accountant.” The dependent (or subordinate) clauses cannot stand by themselves but begin with subordinating conjunctions: “When I married my wife” and “after she took a degree course in accounting.” So the clause pattern for the sentence is dependent, independent, independent, dependent (D, I, I, D).

Now let's look at each of these clauses. We'll start with the first dependent clause: “When I married my wife.” “When” is a subordinating conjunction that tells us we have a dependent clause. The subject is the pronoun “I.” The verb is “married” (past tense in this case). The direct object is the noun “wife,” which is modified by the possessive pronoun “my.”

The sentence's first independent clause is “she was a teacher.” Its subject is the pronoun “she,” and its verb is the third person singular past tense of the copula, namely, “was.” The predicate complement (which describes the subject) is the noun “teacher,” which is accompanied by the indefinite article “a.”

The coordinating conjunction “but,” links the second independent clause, “she later became an accountant.” The pronoun “she” again serves as the subject with “became” as the verb (past tense), which is modified by the adverb “later.” The noun phrase “an accountant” (indefinite article plus noun) follows, with “accountant” as the direct object.

Finally, we have the last independent clause “after she took a degree course in accounting.” It begins with the subordinating conjunction “after” and once again features the pronoun “she” as the subject. The verb is “took” (past tense), and it is followed by the direct object “course,” which is part of the noun phrase “a degree course” and is modified by the indefinite article “a” and the adjective “degree.” The clauses ends with a prepositional phrase made up of the preposition “in” and the noun “accounting.”

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Parsing a sentence is the process of identifying the ways words, phrases, and clauses function together to create meaning in a sentence. Some teachers have students diagram sentences as a means of visually representing sentence constructions.

It's helpful to first identify the type of sentence you're working with. This one is pretty long, and there are several clauses working together to complete meaning. Clauses can be independent (meaning they represent a full and complete thought with both a subject and a predicate) or dependent (meaning they typically begin with a subordinate conjunction and rely on another clause to complete the thought). The clauses in this sentence are as follows:

  • When I married my wife (dependent)
  • she was a teacher (independent)
  • but she later became an accountant (independent)
  • after she took a degree course in accounting (dependent)

We can then identify that this is a compound-complex sentence, meaning it has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.

Because the sentence ends in a period and conveys information, we can also identify that this is a declarative sentence.

You then go through the sentence, looking at the function of each word in the sentence and determining the part of speech for each word. Be careful that things that might look like nouns aren't actually modifying other words, making them adjectives. That's a common error. This sentence breaks down into parts of speech like this:

  • When: subordinating conjunction
  • I: pronoun
  • married: verb
  • my: adjective
  • wife: noun
  • she: pronoun
  • was: verb
  • a: article (adjective)
  • teacher: noun
  • but: coordinating conjunction
  • she: pronoun
  • later: adverb
  • became: verb
  • an: article (adjective)
  • accountant: noun
  • after: subordinating conjunction
  • she: pronoun
  • took: verb
  • a: article (adjective)
  • degree: adjective
  • course: noun
  • in: preposition
  • accounting: noun

Nouns can further be classified based on their inherent properties such as singular or plural, and common or proper. They can also be classified based on their role in a sentence, such as subjects or objects. You could then classify a word like "wife" in this as singular, a direct object, and a common noun. Pronouns can also be further classified in this way, so the word "I" could be classified as a singular and a subject. You could also identify which words adjectives and adverbs modify. "Degree," for example, modifies "course," and "my" modifies "wife."

In this manner, you can proceed through all of the words and phrases in a sentence, providing a means of analyzing the way parts of the sentence work together to create the complete meaning.

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Parsing a sentence is the process of breaking down and analyzing each grammatical component. You go piece by piece identifying the nouns, then the verbs, then adjectives and adverbs. By doing this, you can identify every party involved in the sentence and every action that is taken.

In the example sentence, you would identify "I," "wife," "teacher," and "accountant" among other nouns. You would then identify the verbs, such as "married," "was," "became," and "took." Then you would analyze the adjectives and adverbs, including but not limited to "my" and "degree"—which modifies the noun "course."

Continuing to analyze all the grammatical elements of the sentence will help you to understand completely which characters are taking which actions and who or what they are effecting.

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When you parse a sentence, you are examining the grammatical construction of the words the sentence contains, naming the parts, and describing how the parts relate to each other. The first step is to find all the verbs in the sentence, making sure to find all auxiliary verbs and forms of the verb "to be." In this sentence, the verbs are: married, was, became, took. Verbs can help you find out how many clauses you have. In this case, the four verbs belong to four separate clauses.

Next you can identify which clauses are subordinate (dependent) and which are independent. An independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence; it has its own subject and verb and it does not begin with a "clausal starter" word, or subordinating conjunction. Here we have two independent clauses: "she was a teacher," and "she later became an accountant."

The other two clauses are subordinate because they begin with the clausal starters "when" and "after." 

Within each clause find the basic constituents, the subject-verb-object arrangement. For example, in the first clause, the subject is "I," the verb is "married," and the object is "wife." 

This may be the extent of parsing you need to do, or you may want to identify each individual word as a part of speech. You would label each word as a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, or interjection. For example, "my" is a pronoun, "later" is an adverb.

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