Cách Vẽ Tree Diagram Syntax

A blog about all things linguistic by Gretchen McCulloch.

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I cohost Lingthusiasm, a podcast that"s enthusiastic about linguistics. I"m the author of Because Internet, a book about internet language!
How to lớn Draw a Syntax Tree, Part 8: A step-by-step tree-drawing guide, with gifs

I’ve talked previously about all the different possibilities for what constitutes a syntax tree, but not about how you get from “here’s how you’re supposed to represent things” lớn actually drawing a tree yourself. And that’s a pity, because I’ve sầu actually got a really nice series of steps that I’ve sầu developed from teaching, TAing, and tutoring.

Here are the steps in a nutshell: I’m going khổng lồ go through them one at a time.

1. Label parts of speech2. Label main constituents3. Draw tree

Note: I recommkết thúc doing all of these steps by h& if at all possible. You’ll see from the photos and gifs below that it was easier for me lớn break out the paper và markers than to try to represent this electronically. If you want to type up your tree later, here are some tools for doing so, but it’ll be much easier to type up from an existing handwritten draft rather than try lớn bởi the thinking và the typesetting as part of the same step. Pencil or even a chalkboard/whiteboard is often a good idea for tree-drafting, and you’ll get better at figuring out spacing as you practice more.

So what vì chưng these steps look lượt thích in practice? cảnh báo that rather like learning lớn ride a bicycle, the extended mô tả tìm kiếm looks long và complicated, but with practice many of the steps become automatic with time.

Step 1: Label parts of speech

You’re going to start with your sentence just written out normally – feel không tính phí lớn use the version that you get printed on your kiểm tra or assignment, or write it out for yourself on scrap paper. If you’re writing it out yourself, it’s a good idea khổng lồ leave extra space between the words, for the sake of the next step.

Now label each word with its part of speech (also called lexical or grammatical category). Start with the easy, obvious ones: label the nouns as N, label the verbs as V, label the adjectives (A or Adj), prepositions (P), và adverbs (Adv). Now move sầu on khổng lồ the less obvious ones, determiners (D or Det), auxiliaries (Aux), degree words (Deg), and complementizers (C ). (I’ve sầu also seen degree words referred khổng lồ as Mod for modifier, although I find this confusing because entire phrases can also be used khổng lồ modify things.)

Possible tricky bits in this step: Some words can belong lớn multiple categories! For example, play can be a noun (going to lớn a play), a verb (play tennis), or even an adjective sầu (a play banana, as opposed khổng lồ a real one). Fortunately, while play in isolation is ambiguous, it should be clear from context what category it belongs lớn in a particular sentence. Your course materials should include some tests for part of speech, or you can refer to these notes, these lists (but note that there are adverbs that don’t kết thúc in -ly, such as often), or this set of examples.

One easy way lớn keep trachồng of parts of speech is to lớn learn a keywords or two that unambiguously belongs in each category, và then when you’re trying lớn figure out whether another word belongs to lớn that category, you can say “could I replace it with this other word that I know the lexical category of?” Here’s a sample list:

Noun -cat, happinessVerb -see, laughAdjective sầu -blue, happyAdverb -quicklyPreposition -inDeterminer -theComplementizer - if, whetherAuxiliary -couldDegree word - very, nearly

(Note: do not use “that” as a từ khoá, because it can be a determiner, as in “that cat”, or a complementizer, as in “I saw that the cát was purring”. Compare what happens when you substitute them: “the cat” but not “*if cat”, “*whether cat”, and “I saw whether the cát was purring” but not “*I saw the the cát was purring”. "Be" and “have” are sometimes verbs as in “I am/have sầu a cat”, sometimes auxiliaries, as in “I was laughing/have laughed” & your course may have sầu particular conventions distinguishing them from modal auxiliaries lượt thích can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would.)

In general, this step is going to lớn end up with essentially the same results regardless of what theory your course is using. Apart from the auxiliaries và degree words/modifiers things, the only other part where I’d expect variation is depending on how your course treats pronouns và maybe proper names, so just check whether you’re using NP.., N, D, etc for them.

Why are we doing this step? Rather than rushing into drawing a tree right away, this step will make sure you get all the labels for each node correct and don’t forget anything. Move sầu on khổng lồ step 2 once all words are labelled.

Here’s a image of step 1: I labeled the words starting with the more obvious content words và then adding in the less obvious function words, but you can vì chưng it in any order that makes sense.


Step 2: Label main constituents

Once you’ve sầu gotten everything labelled, you want to figure out the constituents and the main relationships between various parts of the sentence. Your goal for this step is to lớn get every head inside its own phrase: for every N, you need to figure out what its NPhường is, for every V, you figure out its VP, etc. If you’re doing bar levels, you might label a couple of those at this step if you’ve got ambiguity or a whole lot of stuff inside a particular phrase, but for the routine bar levels you can just put them in at the next step.

There are two main ways lớn tackle this problem, bottom-up và top-down. They’re not mutually exclusive sầu though: just alternate between them, doing whichever is easiest until you’ve got all your heads inside their respective phrases.

BOTTOM-UP: Start by identifying the easy phrases that only have sầu a word or two in them: AdjPs, AdvPs, và NPs are often fairly small. Then move sầu on khổng lồ slightly larger constituents, including PPs & more elaborate NPs (and DPs if you’re using them), then VPs và finally IPs và CPs, if necessary.

TOP-DOWN: Start by identifying the verb(s): if you’re drawing a sentence, there should be at least one of them.

Now, every verb has a subject, & they often have an object as well, maybe even two. You can identify these by asking questions about the sentence: the answer to lớn “who is verbing?” is the subject, và the answer to lớn “who is being verbed?” is the object. (The answer lớn “who is the object being verbed to?” is the indirect object.) And there might be other stuff that relates lớn the verb as well, such as an adverb or prepositional phrase.

So your subject, including associated words lượt thích determiners, adjectives, PPs, etc, needs lớn form an NP (or maybe a CP or DP) all by itself, while your object, also including associated words, is an NPhường, CP, or DPhường that’s inside the VP. Also inside the VP (but not inside the object) might be some extra stuff, adverbs & PPs. You can indicate this with brackets around the VP, or another thing you might want to lớn bởi vì for maximum clarity is underline the subject & object, và use arrows lớn point them to lớn their verbs.

This is also the point where, if there’s any movement that’s going on, you’ll want khổng lồ “restore” the affected word(s) back khổng lồ their original position(s). You may be able lớn vị this with the same questions that you used lớn figure out subject và object, or if you’re dealing with a question, try answering it (“What did the mèo play?” → “The cát (did) play the piano”, so your restored sentence is “The cát did play what?”).

How do we know what’s inside each of our phrases, besides the head? There are certain non-head words that typically go with certain types of heads: degree words with adjectives, prepositions, or adverbs, determiners with nouns (it’s a bit more complicated if you’re using DPs), auxiliaries with verbs (unless your course is putting them at I). But for phrases within other phrases, you’ll have sầu khổng lồ figure it out, and that’s the tricky bit.

Fortunately, there are a series of questions you can ask in order khổng lồ figure out which phrases contain other phrases, và they’re known as constituency tests. Your course may give you a list of constituency tests – if not, here are two not-very-overlapping lists. Two very comtháng types are questions và substitution. I’ll demonstrate them both below for various constituents in the sentence “YouTube showed that the cát played the piano.”


What did YouTube do? - VPWhat did YouTube show? - CPWhat did the mèo do? - VPWhat did YouTube show the cát played? - NPWhat was played? - NPWhere did the cát play the piano? - NPWhere did the cát play the piano?* -not a constituentWho played the piano? - NP


YouTube showed that the mèo played the piano, & Vimeo did __ too. ( __ = show that the mèo played the piano - VP)YouTube showed it (it=that the cat played the piano - CP)The cat played the piano, & the dog did __ too. ( __ = play the piano - VP)YouTube showed that the cát played it. (it = the piano - NP)It showed that the mèo played the piano. (it = YouTube - NP)YouTube showed that s/he played the piano (s/he = the cat - NP)

When you figure out that some string of words is a constituent, put square brackets around it and label what kind of constituent it is (NP., PPhường., VPhường, etc). I like to lớn do this by h& because I can make the square brackets of different sizes or colours khổng lồ keep traông xã of them all. If you find it helpful, you can also use underlining, highlighting, or circles to group other elements. (Here’s an example of particularly enthusiastic colour usage.)

If we have an extra modifier of some sort, we can use the same tests to figure out what it modifies. For example, we can add several different prepositional phrases beginning with “in” lớn the sentence above:

YouTube showed that the mèo played the piano in a blue shirt.YouTube showed that the cat played the piano in high definition.YouTube showed that the mèo played the piano in the living room.

But doesn’t necessarily modify the same thing each time, so we need khổng lồ ask questions about it:

What was in a xanh shirt? The cát (playing), not YouTube or the piano.What was in high definition? YouTube’s showing, not the cat or the piano.What was in the living room? The piano (or maybe the cat playing) but not YouTube.

And based on the answers khổng lồ these questions, we can mark up the sentence as follows:

YouTube showed that the cat < played the piano in a blue shirt >VP YouTube < showed < that the cát played the piano >CPhường. in high definition >VPYouTube showed that the mèo played < the piano in the living room >NP

Why are we doing this step? This step is where most of the thinking happens: the goal is to know exactly what you’re putting in your tree before any of the tree-drawing actually happens. Otherwise it’s tempting to lớn just draw a general shape that looks kind of lượt thích the trees you’ve sầu seen before without fully examining what each part is contributing, which will over up as a mess. No really. It will.

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Proceed onlớn the next step when: all heads (N, V, P, Adj, Adv, C, và, if you’re using it, D) are inside their respective phrases (NPhường, VPhường., PP., AdjPhường., AdvP, CP và maybe DP). Make sure you know what the subject(s) & object(s) is/are. Also make sure that for any AdjPhường, AdvPhường, or PP that you know what it modifies và how khổng lồ indicate this in the structure.

As you get more practised at drawing trees, this step will take less time và you can skip over the easy parts if you want. For example, if parts of speech are 100% intuitive to you, you may be able khổng lồ go right khổng lồ labeling the constituents. Or you may not need to lớn draw brackets around all the AdjPs and NPs, you can just figure out the subject và object và any ambiguities. But even once you’re fairly good at tree-drawing, if you’re ever faced with an unexpectedly daunting sentence to lớn draw, you can always fall bachồng on step 1: label the words và step 2: label the constituents. Or, if you’re drawing a really high-stakes tree, for a demo or an assignment, you may still want khổng lồ proceed as methodically as possible to lớn reduce your chances of making a silly mistake.

Note that I have not gotten into sentence-màn chơi projections (i.e. S or IP. or TPhường, whichever you’re using). There’s a reason for that: first of all, that’s where there’s the most variance between course conventions. Secondly, this is the type of projection that may not have an obvious head (unless you have sầu an Aux & your course is treating Aux as an I head). And thirdly, you automatically need an S/IP/TP.. khổng lồ contain your entire sentence, so it’s not a particularly informative sầu constituent khổng lồ add since it will literally just contain the whole sentence. BUT, & this is important, you also need another S/IP/TP for every additional verb that you have sầu in your sentence, because any verb và associated words (subject, object, etc) could also be a sentence by itself.

For example:

YouTube showed that the cát played the piano.

Contains two verbs, “showed” and “played” & thus two clauses, each of which could be a sentence with minor modifications:

The main (or matrix) clause: “YouTube showed…”

The subordinate (or embedded) clause: “That the cát played the piano”

So we also need lớn split these up. We know that “that” is a complementizer ©, so it creates a CP (or S’ if you’re using it), but inside the CP is an S/IP/TPhường (directly inside every CPhường, in the position of sister to the C, is an S/IP/TP).

> >

However, if you only have sầu one verb in your sentence, then you also only have sầu one clause, the main clause, so you can skip this part.

Here’s a gif of step 1+2: I start by labelling the words as in step 1, và then add labels for various constituents (here I am using a strict X-bar theory with IPs). I worked bottom-up from smaller khổng lồ bigger groups, but you could also vì chưng a top-down approach, whatever works for you. Notice the brackets getting bigger and bigger, which is an advantage of handwriting. Leaving lots of space around the words will help fit in all the brackets, but you definitely don’t need to lớn be as pretty as I’m being here.


And here’s a static image of the final result (note that I’ve sầu labelled both sides of the brackets for extra clarity, but you don’t have sầu to):


Step 3: Draw tree

Now, finally, we get to lớn draw the tree!

A lot of people think that this is the step that you start at, but unless you’re dealing with a really, really easy sentence và you already have sầu practice drawing trees, jumping right into lớn drawing a tree will just leave sầu you confused and not sure what lớn put where. It’s a lot better to lớn be confused at the previous step, where you can pause & try a couple things và figure it out, rather than at this step, where you’ll be tempted to lớn just draw something that looks basically lượt thích a tree and think “eh, good enough”. Trust me, despite the fact that the rules may look confusing & arbitrary lớn you when you’re starting out, they make good sense lớn your prof or TA, & it will be very obvious to lớn them if you bởi vì that.

I’m going khổng lồ point out at this stage that syntax trees are not something you can bs. However, this is in fact a great và wonderful thing, because it means that you can, with enough effort, check your own work & prove sầu that your tree is correct (or fix it if it’s not), and you are not at the mercy of dubious judgement calls & whether or not the prof likes you. A correct syntax tree is correct, a wrong (portion of a) syntax tree is wrong, và although there are a few fudgey bits in the realm of “how much vày we care that this thing is wrong?”, it is entirely possible khổng lồ get a score of 100% in a syntax course or unit.

Syntax (và in fact linguistics in general, actually) is not one of those subjects where the prof artificially caps the maximum score at 80 or 85: if you draw a completely correct tree, or in general demonstrate a very thorough understanding of the topic, you will get full marks, và for every mark you chiến bại, there is something very specific that you should have done differently, & most profs and TAs will tell you exactly what answer they were looking for. It’s very satisfying. (I mean, until you get to high-màn chơi courses where you realize that what a syntax tree should even look like is still a matter of theoretical debate, but in an intro course there is definitely still a right answer.)

But enough with the pep talk: how vì you take your now-thoroughly-marked-up sentence and make it inlớn a tree?

You’re going lớn start at the top. As tempting as it may be to lớn draw your sentence along the bottom of the page and draw up from there, this is not how syntax trees are conventionally drawn. Why? Well, starting from the top gives you more symmetrically-sized branches rather than long branches on one side & cramped, tiny, hard-to-read ones on the other, as well as more space for movement arrows. It’s also how the vast majority of syntax trees are drawn, và it’s easier for everyone khổng lồ interpret each other’s trees if we follow a few basic formatting conventions.

If you’re worried about spacing, note that English trees will branch more on the right than on the left, so starting your S/IP/TPhường about a third of the way over on the left side of the page at the very top is generally better than starting it in the middle. Or just find an empty classroom and practise on a large whiteboard/chalkboard where you don’t need lớn worry about wasting paper. Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, you can even take a phokhổng lồ of your whiteboard tree when you’re finished, which was definitely not a thing when I was an undergraduate.

(Related: do not, for the love of Chomsky, draw your syntax trees upside-down. That is, bởi vì not write the sentence along the top of the page & draw branches down from it. I’ve gotten one or two of these in every stack of syntax assignments I’ve sầu marked, and while I bởi vì always try khổng lồ mark it as much as possible, it takes me about three times as long khổng lồ figure out what’s going on & hence makes me grumpy. And you don’t want a grumpy person marking your assignment. If you want to instead make your marker especially happy, I have gotten some delightfully entertaining drawings from students on tests và assignments over the years, so you know, feel không tính phí.)

So you’re going khổng lồ start at the top of the page with your maximal sentence projection, S or IP.. or TP (that’s S’ or CPhường if you’ve got a question), and proceed down from there.

If you’re using S, S will branch into an NPhường. (subject) and a VPhường (containing V, the object NP, và maybe more) plus maybe other things.

If you’re using IP or TPhường, IP. or TP.. will branch inlớn NP (subject) and I’ or T’, which will branch into I or T and VP (containing V, the object NP.., and maybe other things). (Or these NPs might all be DPs, if you’re using the DP. hypothesis. If you’ve sầu never seen a DP., just ignore everything I’m saying about them.)

Anyway, this first part is pretty much always the same for any sentence, which is why we didn’t really bother bản đồ out this top projection in the previous step.

Now you’re going lớn take the constituents that you figured out in the previous step và get them inkhổng lồ the tree:

What’s in your subject? Put it all under that subject position.

Make sure khổng lồ include bar levels if your course is using them.

Do you have sầu anything modifying your verb? Put it under the VP (V’ if you’re using them).

What’s in your object? Put it all directly sister khổng lồ your V.

Include bar levels again if relevant.

Do you have sầu any embedded clauses? You’ve sầu figured out what they’re embedded under in the previous step, now put them there. Be sure khổng lồ include a CPhường (S’) và S/IP/TP before going inkhổng lồ the subject, verb, etc of the embedded clause.

Is anything ambiguous? If you figured out an ambiguity in the previous step, there are a couple ways to proceed. If your course or assignment has mentioned ambiguity as an option, you should probably draw both trees & indicate which meaning each one corresponds to lớn. If there’s a technical ambiguity but one interpretation is way more plausible than the other, and you haven’t been told to find ambiguities, you may be able khổng lồ get away with just drawing the most plausible interpretation (although in that case, feel không tính tiền to include a note lớn the marker). Draw ambiguities on separate trees though, not the same one.

If you need to draw movement, make sure you represent the original position & the moved position using whatever conventions your course is using (arrows, traces, etc).

When you think you’ve finished your tree, here are a few comtháng errors that you can check:

Basic errors:

Did you include all the words from the target sentence in your tree?

Does the tree, left lớn right, read in the same order as your target sentence? (After any movement has happened.) If this is not the case, you need khổng lồ fix something.

Do all the words have their part of speech labels that you established at the beginning? (Double-kiểm tra the tests you used at the labelling step if you want to be really careful.)

Is each head inside its corresponding maximal projection? (N inside NP, V inside VPhường, etc.)

If you’re doing strict X’ theory, vì you have sầu at least one bar màn chơi between each head & its maximal projection? (N’ between N và NPhường., V’ between V & VP., etc.)

More specific errors:

If you have more than one verb, is each verb inside its own VP which is inside its own S/IP/TP? Is each non-matrix verb’s S/IP/TP inside its own S’/CP?

Is there any movement? If it’s a question, what would the statement version sound like? If there are multiple verbs, what would each mini clause sound like separately? If there is passive, what would the active sầu version sound like?

What complements vị you have, if any? Especially complements of PPs (generally NPs/DPs), or NPs & AdjPs (often PPs beginning with “of”). Are they in the right positions? (In X’ theory, a complement is sister to lớn the head, so complement of a noun → sister to lớn N, complement of an adjective sầu → sister lớn Adj, etc. In a theory without bar levels, a complement is simply inside the phrasal cấp độ, so complement of a noun → inside its NP, complement of a verb → inside its VP, etc.)

What modifiers vị you have sầu, if any? AdjPs, AdvPs, PPs…what does each modifier modify? Is it in the right position khổng lồ vì chưng so? (In X’ theory, a modifier is sister khổng lồ the bar màn chơi of the modified element, so modifying a noun → sister khổng lồ its N’, modifying a verb → sister to its V’, etc. In a theory without bar levels, a modifier is simply inside the phrasal level of the modified element, so modifying a noun → inside its NP., modifying a verb → inside its VP., etc. Note that if you don’t have bar levels, there is no difference between a complement & a modifier.)

If you’re in X’ theory, another way of phrasing the previous two questions is: for every PP.., is it a complement or a modifier? Is it in the appropriate position for which one it is? (AdjPs are almost always modifiers, unless they’re after a verb: “the xanh shirt” = modifier; “the shirt is blue” = complement. I can’t think of any examples where an AdvP. would be a complement & not a modifier, but you may want to double kiểm tra just in case. And an AdvP might modify several different things, so especially kiểm tra that part.)

What’s the subject (including modifiers và complements) of each verb? Is it in the appropriate subject position that your course is using? (Under S or sister to I’ are the most likely.)

What’s the object (including modifiers & complements) of each verb? Is it sister to the verb?

Do you have sầu any ambiguity? If so, have sầu you represented it clearly?

Here’s a gif of drawing the tree, again assuming you’re using a strict X-bar theory with IPs (note that the colours correspond khổng lồ the colours of the brackets I used at the previous step – this is for your ease in following, it’s not a thing you need lớn vì in drawing your own trees, as switching ink colours this often will probably make it harder).


And here’s the final tree as a still image:


Lastly, here are the brackets và the tree side-by-side, just for fun.


Notice that subjects are in spec, IP (sister to I’) of their respective sầu IPs, & objects are in complement position of their respective verbs (sister to lớn V). These trees assume you’re doing a strict X’ theory structure: if you’re using TPs or DPs, feel không tính phí lớn substitute them instead, & if you’re doing basic phrase structure rules, substitute S for IP.. và delete all the bar levels (just move sầu everything up khổng lồ attach directly khổng lồ the phrase).

This is part 8 of a series on how to lớn draw syntax trees. If you’re confused about why I keep referring lớn different course conventions rather than giving a specific answer, kiểm tra out the remainder of the series below.