syntax tree(s) and Embedded Sentences

Embedded sentences occur when you can read sentences more than one way, by using the verb more than once. 

The sentence Bob left for Seattle on Tuesday night contains two embedded sentences:

      • Bob left for Seattle
      • Bob left on Tuesday night.

You need to make sure that the syntax tree(s) shows that on Tuesday night refers to left and not to Seattle.  Examine the trees on the next page to see the difference.

Class Activity

In the correct tree below—

Which word does for Seattle hang from?

Which word does on Tuesday night hang from?

What part of speech is that word?

      Incorrect                                                                             Correct


In the incorrect tree, on Tuesday refers to Seattle.  “Seattle on Tuesday” doesn’t make sense.

In the correct tree, on Tuesday refers to left. “Left on Tuesday” makes sense.

The Power of Verbs

We now can see how important verbs are. The verb is the queen of the sentence, just as she is the most powerful piece in chess. In grammar, she is the most powerful part of speech.

Ernest Hemingway, one of the world’s greatest writers, said verbs are the muscle of a sentence.

Small Group Activity

Finish the beginning sentences. Write out the embedded sentences.

1.   Frank runs ten miles every morning except during snowstorms.

a.       Frank runs

b.      Frank runs

c.       Frank runs

2.   Poe was kicked out of West Point for bad grades.

a.       Poe was kicked out

b.      Poe was kicked out

Small Group Activity

Draw and label a syntax tree(s) for each of the following. Color if instructed.

Example: Delacroix, the zombie, has promised to go to the butcher shop after breakfast.

Embedded sentences: Delacroix, our zombie homeboy, has promised to go to the butcher shop.

       Delacroix, our zombie homeboy, has promised to go after breakfast.

    1. Begin with S, for sentence.
    2. Make “shoulders”: the first verb is the right shoulder.
    3. The first word in the sentence is the left shoulder.
    4. Put all words up to the verb will become the left root.

5. Add any other verbs until you reach where the sentence splits.

6. Create the split with a new set of “shoulders.”

7. Add the embedded partial sentences in the order in which they appeared in the sentence.


Number of Embedded Sentences

1. Meredith cooked duck for 50 people on Thanksgiving.  


2. Bobbi plays chess every afternoon after school. 


3. I will surf on Hawaiian beaches in January.


4. Tom likes to run in the rain on Sundays.


5. The puppy with no collar likes to bite the mailman on the leg.


Individual or Small Group Activity

Complete the exercise:    Vatican

Optional Activity