From November 23, 1987, to May 28, 1989, I studied the U.S. Constitution, and I began a diagrammatic study of that document. Diagramming is not universally praised among grammarians, but I have always found it a wonderfully helpful and enlightening tool for my grammar studies. My study of the U.S. Constitution through diagramming led me to believe that one of the many strengths of that document is how very well it is written.

My work took me completely through Article I, and I have reproduced one of the simpler sentences for you. The sentences were often very long, and even though I was writing very small, some of the diagrams ran to two pages. You will see that I typed the sentence (from a small 200th Anniversary Souvenir of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, 1987) and then identified each part of speech before actually looking at the structure of the sentence. I would also identify how the prepositional phrases and dependent clauses were being used in each sentence. The larger sections of each sentence were evaluated to identify five verb qualities: voice (transitive or intransitive); person and number (e.g., third person plural); tense (there are six tenses); and mood (indicative, imperative, or subjunctive). The one reproduced here was studied and diagrammed on February 28, 1988, and it is from Article I, Section 5.

I began diagramming English sentences in 1982, and generally I diagrammed one or two sentences each evening. I did this work for more than seven years. More than four years of diagrams were mistakenly discarded in 1986, but many remain including the work on the U.S. Constitution. An attorney in Los Angeles who saw the U.S. Constitution work thought it should be published, and perhaps someday it will.

Finally, the strength of Gertrude Stein's quotation about diagramming has always intrigued me: I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences.

All the best,
​G.A. Villa

Diagramming and the U.S. Constitution

The Villa Studio

About G.A. Villa