How to draw a tree diagram in linguistics

Written by krystal vanvoorhis
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How to draw a tree diagram in linguistics
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Tree diagrams, also called "parse trees" and "concrete syntax trees," are used in linguistics and formal grammar to divide a sentence into its separate parts while maintaining the structure of the sentence. Parse trees resemble regular tree diagrams in structure; however, they differ in that their function is very specific. A parse tree can quickly become complex. Though they may seem daunting and time-consuming, knowing how to correctly use a parse tree will demonstrate a deep understanding of the rules and placement of the parts of a sentence.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Label the sentence with as many of its individual parts as you can. These include the noun phrase and verb phrase, as well as their individual parts. This will help as you set up the tree.

  2. 2

    Start the tree from the top down. The first thing you need to write is an "S," which stands for "sentence." Every complete sentence tree will start with this. This does not necessarily have a word connected to it; it simply denotes that the tree represents a sentence. It is always the topmost branch of your tree.

  3. 3

    Separate the noun phrase (subject) from the verb phrase (predicate). Draw two branches from the "S" and write "NP" under the left branch and "VP" under the right branch. These will function as a visual distinguishing symbol between the two parts of the sentence.

  4. 4

    Write the sentence below the tree. Leave enough space to add more parts to the tree. You will soon be writing out each part of the sentence and branching it down each individual word.

  5. 5

    Decide whether there is a determinant, or article, in the sentence. If there is, make two branches beneath the "NP" and write a "D" beneath the left branch. Draw a line beneath the "D" to the actual determinate in your sentence. Label the space under the right branch, either "N" or "NP," depending on whether there is just a noun or whether there is still a noun phrase.

  6. 6

    Draw two branches from the "VP" label. Label these "V" and "NP," from left to right. Draw a line from "V" to the verb of the sentence and dissect the noun phrase from the verb phrase for your next branches.

Tips and warnings

  • There are more possibilities for labels. Prepositional phrases, adjectives and others can be a part of the tree as well if they are in the sentence. Branch them off the correct phrases (NP or VP) and connect them as needed.
  • Make sure every word in your sentence is connected to a particular branch. If there are words left, then you are missing branches on your tree.

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