I couldn’t sleep the other night. I tried reading blogs and Googling random celebrities (did you know that Dianne Wiest was basically broke in 2015 and almost lost her apartment?), which are my go-to sleep tricks, but to no avail. So I turned off my phone, closed my eyes, and started diagramming sentences.
I know, I know.
Diagramming sentences wasn’t something I learned in elementary school – which, now I think is criminal – but we did touch on it briefly in our high school English class (one whole day, woo!), and once again in our English 101 class in college. I took to it like a fish to water. I can’t solve math equations without a migraine or thoughts of suicide – but I love diagramming sentences.
I get snobby about grammar and spelling nowadays because I racked up $30k in loans studying English, and I received a degree that gives me the authority to judge people (it says so in the fine print, truly). But really, I shouldn’t judge. Learning the rules of grammar sucked for me, and I was an idiot child until I was a teenager and actually became interested in the specifics.
I don’t think I was a very swift kid – I was smart and curious, but I was also 98% distracted and more focused on who was cheating on who in my mom’s soap operas than I was about learning what an adverb does. I think I started to learn the basics in first grade – but, who knows. I do remember having a tough time keeping it all straight. Like prepositions. I have a vivid memory of my teacher’s attempt to teach us – she put a transparency of a house on the overhead (wow, that aged me 14 more years), and drew a mouse on the roof.
“Where is the mouse?” she asked.
“On the roof,” we said.
She drew the mouse in the kitchen.
“Where’s the mouse now?”
“In the kitchen.”
“Good, now you know what a preposition is. If what you’re doing can be done in a house, that’s a preposition.”
Right. I was instantly confused. For years, I thought prepositions were house specific actions that included “Eating pizza,” “playing Barbies,” “scared of dolls,” and “sleeping.” And no, I didn’t ask questions when I was confused because I was paralytically shy and afraid my teacher would take a cane to me (true story).
A few years later, I was in 6th grade, and my mom pulled us out of school early as a surprise to take us to a matinee of Beavis and Butthead Do America. Because my mom is the coolest. There’s a scene in which the FBI agent scolds his subordinate for ending his sentence in a preposition.
So that’s what a preposition is, my 12 year old mind. It’s a phrase that’s two opposites, like off/in – I get it! I didn’t get it, actually. But I did like the look on my teacher’s face when I told her I learned something about prepositions while watching Beavis and Butthead.
Years further, I became friends with Cara, who bristled whenever someone ended a question with “at.” As in, “Where’s that at?” or “Where you at?” “DON’T END A SENTENCE IN A PREPOSITION!” she’d say. Which just muddled me even more. I guess a mouse could be at a house. But what’s the opposite of at? Not at? I just agreed, said “at” was redundant so I could look convincing, and moved on quickly. Nothing to see here.
Finally, sophomore year of high school, we touched on prepositional phrases, which meant going over what the fuck a preposition actually is. Here, we learned the “Over the river and through the woods/to Grandmother’s house we go” trick – which my teacher was horrified to have to teach us, so late in the game, in honours English. And it FINALLY all made sense.
Whacking off in.
“Where’s Felicia at?”
And I sat back smugly, letting the pieces of grammar rules fall into place in my brain. This is also when I started reading English text books for fun, and I really started to dig into the basic structure of a sentence and the evolution of speech. It is coincidentally the same time I turned into the most exciting person alive.
Prepositions are interesting. They’re links. They’re descriptors. They’re location beacons. They’re powerful. In a weird way, they’re my favorite.
But, I digress. All this to say, I started diagramming a sentence in my head the other night, and I was asleep in about 45 seconds.
So there you go – the next time you can’t sleep, explore the thrilling world of English grammar.