Learning Grammar #2 - More Parts Trees and Sentence Analyses

  1. I love to throw boomerangs to myself.

Action verb: ‘love’.

Subject: ‘I’.

  • I can’t see anything wrong with ‘I’ as the subject or ‘love’ as the main verb of the sentence.

Object: ‘boomerangs’.

  • ‘Boomerangs’ looks like it could be the direct object of the infinitive ‘to throw’.

The infinitive ‘to throw’ is an adverb that modifies ‘love’.

  • I think ‘to’ in ‘to throw’ cannot be a preposition based on what I saw in the sources that I read. When ‘to’ is followed by a noun, it’s a preposition and when ‘to’ is followed by a verb, it’s an infinitive marker. So, it looks like ‘to throw’ has be an infinitive.

  • Infinitives can function as nouns or modifiers.

  • I have a hard time being able to tell when or why an infinitive functions as a noun vs a modifier. The image below has ‘to play’ as a noun in “He wants to play rugby.”. Given that ‘to play’ is a noun, I can’t tell what role ‘rugby’ plays in the sentence. I think rugby has to be a noun and I think that would mean that ‘rugby’ is the direct object of ‘to play’. I saw sources describing infinitives as having their own subjects and objects (when applicable).

    Image source:
    Non-Finite Verbs.

  • I have trouble seeing how ‘to play’ is an adjective in ‘He wants a game to play.’. Knowing that ‘to play’ is an adjective, my guess is that it answers the question; what kind of game? The answers to that could be a playful game, a fun game, or other such adjectives. I also guess that if the sentence were 'He wants to play a game.", then the phrase ‘to play a game’ would be the direct object of the sentence. In that case, ‘to play’ would no longer be a modifier.

  • I read that the entire infinitive phrase can be thought of as the direct object sometimes. After all the stuff I have looked at, that is my best guess here. The whole phrase, ‘to throw boomerangs’, is the direct object of ‘love’ and, within the direct object phrase, ‘boomerangs’ is the direct object of ‘to throw’.

Prepositional phrase: ‘to myself’. The phrase functions as an adverb modifying ‘to throw’. The preposition is ‘to’ and it governs the noun ‘myself’.

  • The prepositional phrase answers the question; who do you to throw to? The answers is ‘to myself’. I think the prepositional phrase could be thought of as modifying the whole clause ‘I love to throw boomerangs’. In that case, the prepositional phrase answers the question; who do you love to throw boomerangs to? I think the idea of the prepositional phrase modifying the whole clause makes the most sense here. The prepositional phrase seems be an adverb, since it’s modifying a whole clause, which is not a noun (I think). Got some useful info from this quora post: https://www.quora.com/Can-a-prepositional-phrase-modify-a-whole-clause-If-so-could-you-explain-with-some-examples
    I also seem remember ET saying a prepositional phrase can modify a whole clause, or the rest of the sentence, or something to that effect.

New tree:
S-Expression: [love [I][“to throw” [boomerangs]][to [myself]]]


grammar - When is "to" a preposition and when the infinitive marker? - English Language & Usage Stack Exchange.


" Infinitives are known as non-finite verbs, meaning they do not express actions being performed by the subjects of clauses. Instead, infinitives function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs to describe actions as ideas."

Non-finite verbs cannot be main verbs:

Non-Finite Verbs.

I really don’t know why I stopped. I have some ideas but they are really just guesses. I have tried making daily/weekly goals, for doing active learning, but I don’t follow through very often. Like, my follow through seems to be around 25%, maybe even lower. I often do other learning activities, other than the ones I wrote down. So I will think that I want to learn grammar but then the next day I really feel like doing some other learning activity instead. Usually that activity is just reading. Since I stopped doing the grammar, I read “The Goal”, a few chapters from “Conjectures and Refutations”, a few chapters of “The Selfish Gene”, and a little bit of “The Virtue of Selfishness”.

Trying a reattempt for #6 made me think of another idea. I was just underestimating how hard learning grammar has been for me. I spent over 3 hours on that reattempt, when including reading, reviewing, and searching for material. I spent time on tangents like direct objects vs indirect objects, and a bunch of stuff related to infinitives. I think the time spent on tangents was actually useful in this case and maybe even mostly necessary. Part of the problem with difficulty could be from the break itself.

I do plan to go on with a reattempt for #10, but I just wanted to make note of what’s going on and what the problems might be.

On the grammar activities specifically, I stopped planning to do them because I had planned to do them and failed to follow up many times in a row.

Did you want to post about those, but didn’t because the grammar topic was pending? Or not?

Did you watch (like?) my grammar videos?

I have wanted to post about my reading at some points over the last couple months. I think wanting to complete the grammar project first has been inhibiting me. I seemed to be fooling myself in thinking that I want to do the grammar work right now but I don’t know where to begin getting more motivated. I feel like I have many of the common problems you talk about with not wanting things and not keeping goals in mind and lacking persistence. I free-wrote a couple thousand words of introspection trying to brainstorm but I haven’t come up with a solution.

I watched one or two of the grammar videos (I think at least one full video). I stop watching one because when you were about the break something down, you mentioned that it would be good to try on your own first. I stopped watching the video at that point because I thought I should finish the grammar work and then come back to this.

OK, so you have an inner conflict about working on grammar. Part of you wants to and part of you doesn’t. You have some ideas in favor of it and some opposed to it – and you don’t have decisive arguments letting you reach a clear conclusion. You don’t have a win/win solution to satisfy all your ideas and their values/sub-goals.

So don’t fight with yourself. Don’t try to coerce yourself with repression, suppression, willpower, etc., in order to make some ideas the winners and others the losers. Don’t assume the conclusion that certain ideas are the right ones (something similar might be right but in their current form those ideas are unable to address the other side’s points well enough to reach a conclusion, so they’re actually wrong).

Don’t declare parts of yourself irrational, wrong, bad, static memes, hang ups. Don’t try to override ideas that disagree with your consciously preferred conclusion instead of reasoning with them.

Instead, do non-judgmental information gathering to better understand what the issues even are (what criticisms of grammar some of your ideas have; what alternative things they want; etc.). And seek a win/win solution that satisfies all parts of you.

Make sense so far?


I think that all makes sense to me so far.

It seems like I might need to try doing a bit more brainstorming and introspection. I could try exposing some of what I come up with there to criticism.

If I get in the right mood to try doing a bunch a grammar again should I try to go for it? Or should I hold off on using that motivation and try to do introspection about how I got back into that mood?

I have felt like being on the verge of doing more grammar work on several occasions but have not gotten to the point of doing much more. On those occasions, I think that I have ended up re-reading or re-watching more of your content or reading some Ayn Rand. I don’t want to rely on chance motivation but I do want to take advantage of high energy levels and motivation to make the best use of my limited resources.

Just to kind of summarize where I’m at:
I have an inner conflict. I don’t know too much about this inner conflict. I don’t have much understanding of the inner dynamics.

In the light of my lack of understanding, I should take an evenhanded approach to the conflicting ideas. I should analyze the state of debate objectively. I shouldn’t be biased to any one side. That would be assuming the conclusion without knowing why its right.

At this point, I don’t even know which ideas are conflicting. Ideas that I have about what the conflict might be a somewhat broad and vague, like passivity vs interest in learning. I could make some more guesses about why passivity is good, what positive role it serves in my life. What problems does low motivation/interest in practicing grammar serve? I guess it depends on the alternatives.

I think the following information is is not very accurate but they’re my best guess for the last few months and it’s roughly similar back to the beginning of 2022.

In recent history, my chosen alternatives have mostly consisted of watching Youtube. These days, I would probably watch a few hours (2-4) of video a week from Elliot’s channels, a higher number of hours (4-8) from the Ayn Rand Institute, and maybe another 10-20 hours on various other topics like history, geopolitics, politics, interview podcasts, and popular science. I also listen to another between 2 and 4 hours of Elliot’s podcast or video per week while exercising. There, I mostly re-listen to the podcast because I have heard them all or re-listen to video because it’s hard to not have some idea about what’s on screen while listening.

I think that I read for about an hour a day on average, including books and articles. Most of my reading is Critical Fallibilism related (ET’s articles or recommended books)

3 hours is a lot. The activity being hard is probably one of the main reasons you don’t do it more.

It’s not just the effort but the uncertainty. It’s doing something and then not knowing if it’s right and not having a good way to find out. Looking it up in many places trying to check your work but still being unsure. (FYI, you ended up actually changing something that was correct originally to be wrong in the reattempt, which is one of the pieces of evidence I’m going by.)

Part of the solution is to be less perfectionist. If you just do a bunch of different ones quickly, you might be able to make progress despite errors. Your error rate might be low enough to keep going rather than being overwhelming.

Finding some easier practice problems can help too. You could probably find something with really basic sentences meant for elementary school students and do 10 sentences in under an hour and get most or all of them right. It’s good to have some experience with things going smoothly and fast. With really easy sentences, you could race – maybe do 10 in 30min or even 10min (without errors). The majority of your activities should be closer to that than to agonizing over something for 3 hours. And if it goes well maybe you could then find something that’s a bit harder, and escalate a few times until you get a good level of challenge that’s useful practice but without stuff you get stuck on.

Some people resist trying way more basic problems because they are getting stuck on anything and it’s really embarrassing to make mistakes or get stuck on such basic stuff. If you can actually go through it quickly and successfully, that’s not so bad, but what if it’s hard for you? If so, that probably actually indicates some kinda general purpose blocker (like a psychological issue that applies to all learning, such as perfectionism), not ignorance of basic grammar. In that case, it’d be good to find that out and explore that problem using really easy practice problems where the subject matter is less distracting.

FYI, in short, non-finite verbs or multiple clauses are the hard stuff. Sentences without those are easier. Before that, I’ve been told that some students (doing regular school, not grammar trees) struggle with prepositions. Figuring out the parent node for a modifier is pretty easy in most cases but sometimes trickier; it can require conceptual thinking about what makes sense rather than just looking at grammatical structure.

I just spent 25 minutes doing analysis on these sentences from a short story for 1st graders. Took another 4-5 minutes uploading and formatting for post.

  1. Jack wants to build a birdhouse.

[wants [Jack] [“to build” [birdhouse [a]]]]


Verb: wants.

Subject: Jack.

Object: to build (infinitive as a noun).

‘A’ modifies ‘birdhouse’ (adjective/determiner).

I think ‘birdhouse’ is the object of the infinitive ‘to build’, so ‘birdhouse’ is just another noun.

  1. He gets some wood.

[gets [He] [wood [some]]]


Verb: gets.

Subject: He.

Object: wood.

‘Some’ modifies ‘wood’.

  1. He gets some nails and paint.

[gets [He] [and [nails] [paint] [some]]]


Verb: gets.

Subject: He.

Object: nails and paint.

‘Some’ modifies ‘nails and paint’ (adjective).

  1. His mom helps too.

[helps [mom [His]] [too]]


Verb: helps.

Subject: mom.

‘His’ modifies ‘mom’ (adjective/possessive pronoun).

‘Too’ modifies ‘helps’ (adverb). ‘Too’ tells you the mom’s help is in addition to something or someone else’s help.

About 5 minutes effort total.

She gets a saw and a hammer.
[gets [She] [and [saw [a]] [hammer [a]]]]

She gets a pencil and ruler.
[gets [She] [and [pencil [a]] [ruler]]]

Your trees look correct.

If you haven’t already, you should try some other tools to compare. You might find it faster to use a tree app than s-expressions.

I tried Visual Paradigm for like 15-20 minutes but I couldn’t figure out how to make trees effectively. I didn’t like the software overall. I will move on to trying some others. I plan to try Free Mind next. Mind Node looks like it would be nice but I’m on Windows. What is the best option you know of for Windows users?

I like XMind alight for the purposes that I have used it for so far. I have found the grammar trees take about the same amount of time with s-expressions and XMind.

Jack draws his birdhouse.
[draws [Jack] [birdhouse [his]]]


They build it together.
‘Together’ is an adverb modifying ‘build’. How did ‘they build it’? ‘together’.
[build [They] [together] [it]]


I’m not confident about this one.

Then they hang it up in a tree.
‘Then’ is an adverb modifying ‘hang’.
‘Up’ is an adverb modifying ‘hang’.
The prepositional phrase ‘in a tree’ is an adverb modifying ‘hang’.

[hang [they] [Then] [up] [it] [in [tree [a]]]]


My first guess was “in a tree” tells us where “up” is rather than directly telling us where the hanging happens. It seems kinda ambiguous and contextual though. I can see it working both ways.

For child order, I put modifiers last so the object (or complement) has a consistent position (second).

How do you rule out that the prepositional phrase ‘in a tree’ is a adjective modifying ‘it’? The prepositional phrase would be telling you the location of ‘it’.

It kind of intuitively sounds better that ‘in a tree’ tells you where ‘it’ is hanging but I can’t say definitively why.

Is there any ambiguity with ‘then’? Could ‘then’ be modifying the whole sentence? Is that an important distinction?

By meaning not grammar. Compare with:

“I like the man in the building.”

What does “in the building” modify? Man not like. How do I know? The meaning makes more sense that way. If I wanted to say I like the man and I’m doing that liking in the building, I’d word it differently. Like “While I’m in the building, I like the man”.

A prepositional phrase in that position can modify the verb’s object.

But for “Then they hang it up in a tree.” if you meant “Then they hang up the one that is (already) in a tree” you’d word it differently to get that meaning across, like I just did. Or like, awkwardly, “Then they hang the in-a-tree it up”. Otherwise there’s no way to tell that “in a tree” is meant to tell us which “it” rather than where the hanging or up is.

Your intuition can answer a lot of questions like this for you. If it doesn’t tell you right away, you can try asking it more questions. Ask about related or similar sentences, simpler versions, versions where your intuition gives a different answer (like my man and building example), etc. Quizzing your intuition in a bunch of different ways can draw more information out of it and give you more confidence about what it says and what the boundaries are for when it will instead say something different.

Is there any ambiguity with ‘then’? Could ‘then’ be modifying the whole sentence? Is that an important distinction?

In general, I wouldn’t worry about “modifies the verb (that leads the clause)” vs. “modifies the clause”.

Does the problem with ‘in a tree’ modifying ‘it’ have to do with ‘it’ being a pronoun? As I was just thinking about this it seems like adjective prepositions tell you which one of something. As in, they specify that it was the ‘man in the tree’ or the ‘squirrel in the tree’. With a pronoun you have already referenced which one you are talking about so it doesn’t make sense add a qualifying adjective.

Base on your reply, I think I could try using a procedure like the one below, to match modifiers with things-being-modified (is there a word for this?):

Guessing at modifier grammar:

  1. Use the meaning when grammar is not immediately clear.
  2. Try to come up with example sentences with the same modifier which are less ambiguous in what they modify.
  3. See how the modifier works in an example case that is more obvious to my own intuitions.
  4. Try to get at least one example sentence of the modifier on either side of the debate.
  5. If I can’t come up with anything for one side, do a quick google search to see if it’s even possible.
  6. Try to guess at the meaning of the modifier within the sentence by quizzing my intuition.