The First Annual Times & Seasons Sentence Diagramming Contest

December 17, 2008 | 20 comments
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Your challenge: diagram the sacrament prayers.

Those are some long, convoluted sentences. I’m concerned that I don’t really know how the phrases relate to each other. We can’t do proper diagrams in the comment box, of course, but you can explain to me how you see the phrases relating to each other. I’ll tell you what I always tell my ten-year-old: start with the main verb(s). Go from there.

Good luck.

20 Responses to The First Annual Times & Seasons Sentence Diagramming Contest

  1. bfwebster on December 17, 2008 at 12:28 am

    Sheesh. The last time I diagrammed sentences was in the 1970s in a few linguistics classes and in my work at the BYU Translation Sciences Institute — and that was according to the tenets of junction grammar. I’ll have to give myself a refresher course in normal sentence diagramming before tackling this. ..bruce..

  2. Angie on December 17, 2008 at 12:53 am

    Ha! ha! ha! this is a hilarious and super nerdy contest. I can’t wait to submit my entry!

  3. Jim F. on December 17, 2008 at 2:10 am

    I don’t think there is much difficulty with the prayers until you get to the last clause “that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.” Is it parallel to “that they may eat in remembrance,” one of the results to be expected from the blessing and sanctifying of the sacramental elements, or is it parallel to “that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son,” the result of that willingness?

    I think that most of us take it in the second way, though I’m not sure it can’t also make sense in the first. I have a diagram that more clearly explains my point, but I can’t figure out how to make it available here.

  4. Mark B. on December 17, 2008 at 9:35 am

    I haven’t diagrammed sentences since Nixon was President, and didn’t do much then, so I’ll have to defer to Jim F.

    But, I will say that the sacrament prayers in English made much more sense after I figured out what they said in Japanese. I’m hoping the translators got them right.

  5. TStevens on December 17, 2008 at 10:31 am

    I thought you meant the random prayers the general membership offer up at the beginning of the meeting. After reading the comments I get that it is totally different, but it just might be more fun.

  6. Rameumptom on December 17, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Did they diagram sentences in Joseph Smith’s day? Did God, in bringing about D&C 20 and Moroni’s copies of the Sacrament prayers, ever think they would be tested like this?

  7. Kevin Barney on December 17, 2008 at 11:33 am

    I never learned how to diagram sentences in grammar (sic) school, which I consider to be a hole in my education. But I think I understand the basic concept. I looked at the prayer on the water, and understood it as follows:

    O God [God is a vocative, the one being addressed, and O is an interjection used before the vocative as a means of expressing deep yearning. This is a poetic usage.]

    the Eternal Father [in apposition with the vocative]

    we ask thee [the main sentence, subject-verb-object. Here the object is the archaic familiar singular pronoun, according to Jacobean usage, and its antecedent is God the Eternal Father.]

    in the name of thy Son [a prepositional phrase indicating authority or basis. The archaic "thy" is also archaic, a possessive personal pronoun whose antecedent is similarly God the Eternal Father.]

    Jesus Christ [in apposition with Son. Christ is used here as if it were a proper name.]

    to bless and sanctify this wine [an infinitive complement]

    to the souls of all those who drink of it [I don't know whether there is such a thing as a "benefit" clause, but that's sort of the sense I get from this. The antecedent to the relative "who" is "souls."]

    that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son [a purpose clause]

    which was shed for them [a relative clause, with the antecedent to "which" being "blood"]

    that they may witness unto thee [a parallel purpose clause]

    O God, the Eternal Father [a repetition of the opening vocative with its appositional article-adjective-noun]

    that they do always remember him [a result clause]

    that they may have his spirit to be with them [also a result clause. Here I think we have a parallel question to Jim's issue with the prayer on the bread; does this parallel the above result clause, or is it a result of the above result clause?]

    Amend (concluding interjection)

  8. Katie P. on December 17, 2008 at 11:51 am

    “I don’t think there is much difficulty with the prayers until you get to the last clause “that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.” Is it parallel to “that they may eat in remembrance,” one of the results to be expected from the blessing and sanctifying of the sacramental elements, or is it parallel to “that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son,” the result of that willingness?”

    “that they may always have his Spirit to be with them” = result clause
    “that they may eat in remembrance” = purpose clause
    “that they are willing to take up them the name of thy Son” = indirect statement

  9. busracer on December 17, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Julie, thanks for raising this interesting question. You are right that diagramming is difficult online (though I’m not sure I would remember how to do it on paper either), but I wanted to raise a grammatical aspect of the prayers that has puzzled me recently.

    Not long ago, a former stake president told us that the language and structure of the two prayers reveals an important theological difference between them. He said that with the bread, we promise to that we are willing to do 3 things: (1) take on his name, (2) remember him, and (3) keep his commendments. In contrast, with the water, we promise that we will actually do one thing: always remember him. In this way, he said, the sacramental covenant is more forgiving than some might imagine—we do not promise perfect obedience; we promise only our will to do those things. The one thing that we promise to faithfully do is to remember him.

    Here’s where the grammar comes in. I think there may be another way to read the prayers. Could it be that when we take the bread, we witness that we will actually do 3 things: (1) that we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ, (2) that we always remember him, and (3) that we keep his commandments?

    The grammatical problems seems to be that there are 3 parallel phrases, but what links them gramatically? Are there 3 verbs that “they” witness they will actually do, or are there 3 verbs that “they” witness they are “willing” to do?

    Put otherwise, here are the 2 ways I see to read this with parenthesis added for clarity.
    Option A:
    “they are willing to (1) take upon them the name of thy Son, and (2) always remember him and (3) keep his commandments.” or
    Option B:
    “they (1) are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and (2) always remember him and (3) keep his commandments.”

    I think we commonly read it as in Option A, but it strikes me that Option B, grammatically speaking, is a possible reading as well. Personally, I think I like Option A better, but I have wondered, what if God was atually trying to tell us Option B? Which reading is grammatically superior? Or are both acceptable?

    If it turns out that the former stake president is right, how important is it that with the bread we only witness that we are “willing” to do these things rather than promising we will actually do them? Why not extract a promise that we will actually do these things? Why the difference between the bread and the water? Why do we have to be willing to do 3 things but actually do only 1? If we only have to be willing to do 2 of the 3 things, why isn’t willingness enough on the 3rd as well?

    Or as a prior commenter pointed out, just how important is this grammatical minutiae to the substance of the covenant?

  10. Adam Greenwood on December 17, 2008 at 12:58 pm
  11. PTiger on December 17, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    busracer- a few thoughts:
    (1) if it’s option (b), we’re making the covenant to always remember him twice, and that seems redundant since the only thing we promise to do in the water portion of the sacrament is to always remember him;
    (2) The difference between asserting that I am willing to keep his commandments and asserting that I will actually do it is that I have a reasonable hope of carrying out the first assertion; e.g. the difference between “I’d like to, and I’ll try, though I’ll likely catch myself messing up from time to time” and “I will do it”. The covenant, as I see it, is a measure of one’s intentions and the actual outcomes are less important (a person perfect in all other ways who purposefully has no intention of keeping the law of tithing makes the covenant in bad faith; a person who struggles to keep their temper under control but is really trying to get better at it makes it in good faith).

  12. JT on December 17, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Kevin – Did your comment #7 conclude with a challenge? (“Amend”)

    I’m not sure I’m up for it.

  13. JT on December 17, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Jim F. (3) – I read your book on scripture study while I was in college (which I thought was an excellent and refreshing book) and remember your sentence diagram of the sacrament prayers in the parsing section of the book. If I remember correctly, you had diagrammed the last clause as parallel to “that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son.” For some reason, from the time I read it to this day, I thought you meant that what so many traditionally saw as a 3-fold covenant was actually a 4-fold covenant, with the fourth being a covenant to always have his Spirit to be with us. That always perplexed me, as no matter how many times I read it, I just couldn’t see it that way. So do I understand from your comment #3 that that is not what you meant? Or am I getting fouled up all over again?

  14. Mark B. on December 17, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    I’m not sure what to call it, but I don’t think I read the last of these three lines the way Kevin does:

    that they may witness unto thee [a parallel purpose clause]

    O God, the Eternal Father [a repetition of the opening vocative with its appositional article-adjective-noun]

    that they do always remember him [a result clause]

    Take out the interjection (the middle line) and it becomes

    “that they may witness unto thee that they do always remember him”

    The second half of the line, following the second “that”, is thus the thing that those who drink are witnessing. So the prayer is that the wine will become for us who drink our witness that we do remember. The first “that” refers back to the core sentence “we ask thee”. The second “that” refers back to “witness”.

    Now, maybe that’s what Kevin was saying, in which case I agree with him completely.

  15. Alison Moore Smith on December 17, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I’ll join if I can be the master (of prepositional phrases). They are the only part (of speech) that sank (into my brain) (around the time) I was in Mrs. Smith’s English class (in junior high) (at Lakeridge).

    Mrs. Smith was a temple worker (in a session) I attended (at the Timp Temple) last month. Maybe that was a sign.

  16. Julie M. Smith on December 18, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Thanks for the comments, all. I’m subbing for GD this week and your ideas are helpful as I think about these prayers.

  17. Kevin Barney on December 18, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Mark B., I think that that is what I was trying to say by labeling the first that clause purpose the the second one result. Whether I got the labels right, I agree with you that the second that clause is expressing what it is that they are witnessing.

  18. Jim F. on December 19, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    #13: I think that there is more than one reasonable way to diagram the prayers. That is part of what makes them interesting.

  19. Alan L. on December 21, 2008 at 1:23 am

    Hey bfwebster – Are you Bruce Webster? It’s amazing to run across another TSI-ite after all these years. I was one of the two Alans on the Spanish team. Thirty years ago I would have attempted a J-tree. Or is that a well-formed syntacto-semantic statement? Who’s afraid of the big bad WFSS?

  20. Jason L. on December 21, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    I think the blessing on the bread is actually asking for two sets of outcomes for our souls. First, immediately, we’re to “eat in remembrance” of Christ’s body. Second, over the long term, we’re to witness our willingness to (a) take upon us his name, (b) always remember him, and (c) keep his commandments. I admit to applying the “willingness” to all three clauses out of my own view of what’s realistic and in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary. To the extent that the blessing of the emblems really does lead us to these two sets of outcomes (immediate and long-range), we’ll “always have his Spirit to be with” us.

    As for the difference between the bread and water prayers, I think of it like the lyrics of the Primary Song “He Sent His Son” (my favorite). That song asks “What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say?” and answers, “Have faith, have hope, live like his Son, help others on their way.” Then it again asks, “What does he ask?” and answers, “Live like his Son.” That admonition, if followed fully, would answer the others. Similarly, focusing the blessing on the water on the promise to “always remember” might highlight the centrality and encompassing nature of that promise.