Friday, September 5, 2014

Diagramming Sentences: Folk Song Friday

A sentence diagram of "You Are My Sunshine."
"You Are My Sunshine" is a great song to use for diagramming and analysis!

Diagramming sentences is a playful way to analyze everyday language.  Part of our everyday language includes music and song. Why not practice our grammar and analysis skills by diagramming a song?

"You Are My Sunshine" was written by Oliver Hood and the Rice Brothers' Gang in 1933.  It makes a great song for analysis because of its complicated sentence structures and catchy, popular tune.  Furthermore, as we begin to diagram and analyze this song, we start to see that there is more to it, and this speaker, than just life with sunshine.

Do you know how it goes? One, two, three, four, one . . .

The Chorus

The lyrics to the chorus of "You Are My Sunshine."
"You Are My Sunshine" Chorus

The chorus of the song, the most well-known part of the song, contains an appositive, a complex sentence structure, a personal address, an imperative sentence that uses understood you, linking verbs followed by subject complements, and an interjection.  It also includes contractions and a noun clause.  Can you pick them out?  I'll give you a hint: Appositives and understood you will always be placed on a diagram in parenthesis.

Verse One

"You Are My Sunshine" Verse One

Just like the chorus, the first verse of the song contains a personal address, a linking verb, a noun clause, and a complex sentence structure.  In addition, this verse also includes a compound verb, a present participle, a prepositional phrase, and a compound-complex sentence structure.

As a matter of comparison to the chorus, we can easily see in this verse that there are a lot of I's as subjects. All six clauses have "I" to the left of the subject-verb divider line.  What do you think that might mean?  What might that imply about the speaker in the song?

Verse Two

"You Are My Sunshine" Verse Two

The second verse introduces an infinitive phrase, "to love another,"  and the object complement, "happy." There is also another good example of an appositive, the renaming of "it" for "all."

The double  inclusion of the word "if," a subordinating conjunction, tells us even more about the speaker than the many uses of the word "I" in the previous verse.  Think about the circumstances that people are in when they most often use the word "if." The circumstances are often uncertain, or a person may be examining his or her potential future paths.  This type of sentence is called a conditional sentence.

Verse Three

"You Are My Sunshine" Verse Three

The third verse offers an excellent example of an indirect object and an excellent test of our abilities to diagram a compound-complex sentence.  The compound-complex sentence in this verse contains four clauses.  Do you see all four?  Here is a hint: "You told," "you loved," "no one could come," and "you've left and love," are the four subject-verb pairs.

Because songs and music are such an integral part of our daily lives, taking the time to analyze them can truly help us understand them better.  Diagramming, though exceptionally helpful when learning about grammar and usage, can also help us find ways to analyze a song's meaning by helping us see patterns in the language. Those patterns prompt us to ask questions and dig deeper into the song's greater implications.  As we can see here, this particular song is about a lot more than just life with "sunshine."

Want to learn more about diagramming sentences?

Try my complete diagramming sentences course on Udemy, or refer to my textbook, "Diagramming Sentences: A Playful Way to Analyze Everyday Language."


  1. Dear,
    I brows rather skim your book and find it equally interesting, innovative and valuable addition to the subject of diagramming structure. I teach a little bit of it in linguistics at Master level. I wanna read it if available on net or otherwise .
    Your efforts are highly appreciable.
    Prof. Syed naveed gilani

    1. Thank you, Professor! I have additional content here on my blog, an online course on Udemy, and my eBook or hardcopy book, "Diagramming Sentences: A Playful Way to Analyze Everyday Language." I'm so glad to hear you use diagramming at the Master's level. I find it extremely helpful getting students engaged in my own classroom. It's a skill your students can use later when they are in their own classrooms.