Grammar Basics & Block Diagramming for Bible Study

Updated on November 10, 2017

Clauses & Phrases

Block diagramming is concerned somewhat with grammar. Therefore, it is essential to understand some of the basics. We start with clauses and phrases.

Throughout this tutorial you may see me refer to our chosen study method as "Phrasing." I will be using this term it its broader context rather than its strict grammatical usage, but it is important to understand the difference as this will mean identifying components right or wrong.

Grammatically, a clause is a group of words which always contains a subject and a verb. A phrase is a group of words that contains either a subject or a verb but never both. The following illustration point out the difference between a clause and a phrase:

Jesus is King of the world


The first part of the sentence is a clause. It contains the subject, 'Jesus' and the to be verb 'is.' The second part of the sentence contains no subject or a verb. It only tells us more about the clause and is called a prepositional phrase. We will learn more about the different types of phrases in an upcoming tutorial.Watch the below video to better understand the difference between clauses and phrases.

There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent. Independent clauses can stand alone; that is, they form a complete sentence. Independent clauses must have another clause coupled with it in order to make sense. Consider the following example:

God loved the world by sending His Son, Jesus. 

The above illustration contains both an independent and dependent clause. The first clause, God loved the world, can stand alone and make sense all by itself. The second clause, by sending His Son, Jesus, is dependent or subordinate to the first clause because it cannot make sense by itself.

In block diagramming you will encounter both types of clauses on a regular basis, so it is important to understand the differences between the two.

Independent clauses can stand alone, while dependent clauses must have another clause coupled with them in order to make sense.

Subjects, Verbs, Direct Objects

Subjects, verbs, and direct objects are the fundamental building blocks of a sentence; at the very least you need the first two components to have a genuine sentence. Let's take a little time to define these terms and then we will look at some helpful tips that will aid us in finding these components throughout a paragraph.

Subject – the subject of the sentence will be the main noun (person, place, or thing) of a particular clause. Remember, a clause must have both a subject and a verb in order to be a true clause. Sometimes the subject may be implied, and thus, the clause is a single word. For example, in the sentence, "Pray," the subject is understood as "you pray." This is common in imperative verbs. We will learn more about the types of verbs below.

Verb – a verb is a word that shows action, a state of being, or gives a command. A verb can be a single word or made up of a "helper" that will complete the verb's action. Verbs are seen in two different forms: active and passive. Active means that the subject performs the action of the verb:
Bob hit the ball. 'Hit' is an active verb because Bob, the subject, is performing the action.
Bob was hit by the ball. Now, the word 'hit' is a passive verb because the subject is not performing the action but is being acted upon. Don't confuse this with the direct object, which we will talk about more below.

Direct Object – a direct object is another noun that receives the action of the verb. In other words, it is the noun that the verb directly affects. This is different than a passive verb. Direct objects receive the action whereas passive verbs still affect the subject of the verb. The easiest way to distinguish a direct object from a passive verb is to see which noun always stays the same. In other words, change the passive verb into an active verb and ask 'Who or what?' If the noun is the same answer in both the active and the passive you have your subject! If it changes you have probably mistaken the subject for the direct object or visa versa.

How do you find these parts of speech in a sentence or paragraph? Here are some tips.

  1. Always start by finding the verb. Verbs are usually the easiest to spot. Most of us can naturally find a verb in a sentence. Finding the verb first will help us find the other parts of speech that we need to find. After finding the verb we can then proceed to find the other necessary parts of speech.
  2. After finding the verb we can then begin to ask questions about that verb to find the other parts of speech. We may ask, "Who or what performed the action. Using our example sentence above, Bob hit the ball, we could ask, "Who or what hit the ball?" The answer is 'Bob.' Therefore Bob is the subject. If we use the passive voice we would simply ask, "Who or what was hit by the ball?" The answer would still be 'Bob.'
  3. To find the direct object we can ask 'Who or what?' once again. The only difference is that we use the subject and ask 'Who or what?' Using our regular example, let's try it:
    Bob hit the ball. We then start with the subject, so our question would be 'Bob hit who or what?' The answer would be 'ball.' The ball received the action of 'hit' making it the direct object of the verb.

Remember to ask the 'who or what?' questions to always find the part of speech you're searching for. Start with the verb, then proceed to find the subject, and the direct object last. It is also important to realize that a sentence or a clause doesn't necessarily need a direct object. You will often find them without objects. They are still clauses because they contain a subject and a verb!

Types of Verbs

The last thing we need to discuss before concluding this part of the tutorial. Recognizing the different types of verbs is extremely important! In block diagramming you will need to find the main verb of a clause/sentence in order to diagram the passage correctly. This involves knowing and understanding the different types of verbs.

  1. Finite verbs – a finite verb is a verb that has a subject. In block diagraming a finite verb is the only type of verb that be a main verb of a clause or sentence. Example: Jesus died for the sins of mankind. 'Died' is a finite verb that has the subject 'Jesus.' This can be a main thought or verb of the clause.
  2. Participles – participles are verbs that show how an action is carried out. In English they typically end in 'ing.' Example: Jesus died for the sin of mankind by giving His life for us. The verb 'giving' is a participle and explains how the act of dying was carried out.
  3. Infinitives – infinitives are the simple form of the verb with the word 'to' prefixed to the verb. Example: Jesus died for the sin of mankind to redeem us. In this example 'to redeem' is considered the full infinitive.
  4. Auxiliary verbs – auxiliary verbs are verbs that do not transfer their action to an object. These types of verbs can be finite, but I have included them because it is important to understand them. The clearest example of this type of verb is from John 11:35: Jesus wept. Here, 'wept' is the verb but it has no direct object or it does not transfer any action.
  5. Helping verbs – these types of verb "help" to complete the action of the main verb. They are usually made up of several words. Example: Jesus would not be tempted, but entrusted Himself to the Father. In this example 'would be tempted' is considered to be the full verb. Just saying 'Jesus tempted' would not have been sufficient. The helping words 'would be' were added to complete the entire idea.
  6. Stative verbs – stative verbs are also called state of being verbs. They show a the state or condition of something. Example: Jesus is God in the flesh. Here, the word 'is' shows the state, or reality of Jesus' Deity.

I can't stress the importance of being able to recognize the types of verbs. It may seem a little daunting at first, but with practice things will become much easier. This concludes the second part of the Block Diagramming Tutorial. Please take the quiz below to test your knowledge.

Quiz: Test Your Knowledge

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© 2017 Steven Long

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