Sentence Diagramming: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

This one is obviously for Mom, who loved to read us Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst when we were little. Or maybe we just asked for it a lot.

This is the gem that starts the book, and I ask you, how could anyone write a sentence diagramming blog series and not work on this beaut.

“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

At first, I admit I thought this line would be simple because it’s from a picture book, although one wonders where I got that idea as I think I’ve pretty solidly disputed the idea that picture books have simple, easy-to-diagram sentences. At first glance, I thought it would be full of prepositional phrases and adjectives, and it does, but that’s not all.

ALEXANDER First line

I had to color code this sucker and break it up because it wouldn’t fit vertically in the software I use. That’s how cool it is.

See the blue text in the upper left corner? That is a delightful cascade of prepositional phrases: to sleep with gum in my mouth makes for a very pleasing staircase.

Then I had to deal with there’s, which does two interesting diagramming things (check out the purple text in the middle left). First, it splits into There (is). Second, the now two words aren’t even kept together on the same baseline. There floats above the diagram because it’s unnecessary, like Jane Eyre‘s direct address Reader, I married him. Without there, the meaning of the phrase is exactly is the same and could be rewritten Gum is in my hair. However, it is necessary for the rhythm of the sentence, which sounds just like a poor kid whining after everything went wrong on a terrible day.

Although I at first thought both of these were prepositional phrases, when I got out of bed this morning and while the water was running in red are both subordinating conjunctions that join an independent clause with a dependent one. But they have a subject and a verb, which makes them clauses, not phrases.

The was going to be in the last part of the sentence in the bottom right (yellow) was the hardest bit, but in the end I made it all one verb.

I finally got my abundance of adjectives in the final phrase in green.

I suspect this sentence is so interesting because it ignores my expectations to be all prepositional phrases and adjectives. Had the entire thing been a repeated type of phrase, it wouldn’t have held my interest through so many repeat readings.

I thought it would be appropriate to bookend with the last two lines from the book (which I combined when I diagrammed it to make one grammatically correct sentence).

My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia.

ALEXANDER Even in Australia

I expected this sentence to be easy. It’s so short! But look how complex it is, with the noun clause “some days are like that, even in Australia” acting as a direct object. I wasn’t sure where to put “even in Australia.” Does it modify the noun or the verb? In the end I went with noun, but I’m open to arguments for the other way.

If you think about it, Viorst could have put “even in Australia” almost anywhere in the sentence, and it would have the same meaning.

  • “Some days, even in Australia, are like that.”
  • “Even in Australia, some days are like that.”
  • “Some days, are, even in Australia, like that.”

But of course she chose the option with the most punch, putting it at the end of the sentence and after a page turn in the book.


More information about sentence diagramming: The Grammar Revolution. I used Let’s Diagram to create the diagrams. 

One thought on “Sentence Diagramming: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

  1. Nice job unraveling the complexity of the sentences! From my first reading of it, this book has been one of my favorites. Love, Mom.

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