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Interpretation: Discourse Analysis – part 1 May 19, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
Tags: , , ,

Hello again. It has been awhile. I hope you have been enjoying the blog up to this point. Conceptually, we are about to get into the most difficult aspect of the exegetical process – discourse analysis. Discourse analysis, may be tricky at first, but it is vital to the understanding of a passage.  If you take your time and apply this to your study of a passage it will give you a whole new perspective and make the passage “come alive”.

Basic Definition

Discourse analysis should be done as part of the Interpretation step. It will help to have the background info you have gained from the Observation step. In general discourse analysis is “analyzing the discourse”. It is breaking down a passage into its smaller units and identifying the relationships between them. I like to think of it as dissecting a passage. If a paragraph is represented by a pile of bones, then discourse analysis would be the process of putting the bones together so that you can see the skeletal shape and know what type of animal you are looking at.

Overview of the Process

Discourse analysis consists of 3 steps. Step 1 is finding the propositions. Step 2 is determining the relationships between the propositions. And step 3 is summarizing your results. The propositions are the small units that make up what a sentence or verse is saying. By identifying these small units you can synthesize verses down to their smallest pieces and then compare them together. Because the propositions are smaller, they are more manageable and can help us see the bigger picture more easily. Once we get the basic structure of a passage, then we can see how the smaller details fit in.

Finding the Propositions

Because this is such a complex topic, I wanted to break it down in to two parts. In this first part, I will go over the first step (finding the propositions). Next week, I will talk about  step 2 (determining their relationships) then finish with step 3 (summarizing).

So, what is a proposition? A proposition is basically a statement. It has a verb and a subject (the person or thing doing the verb). Apart from that there are many things that are added onto the proposition to make it into a sentence. There can be an object that the verb is done on (direct object) or you can add adjectives and adverbs to describe things in more detail. There can be prepositions, indirect objects, and genitives all adding to the proposition and explaining it in someway or another.

In this first step we are simply looking for the propositions. Every proposition has a verb or verbal idea. Therefore, these verbs are the first things to look for to determine the propositions. Find every verb or verbal idea in your passage. As a general rule, each proposition only has one verb, although sometimes there are two verbs working together to make one verbal idea. You can see this with helping verbs (“He will be done at 5” is one proposition because “will” and “be” are part of the verb “done”). As you are looking for these verbs find the basic “heart” of the proposition (the verb and its subject), but you also need to see where it begins and ends. A lot of propositions end in either some type of punctuation, like a comma or a period, or they end with a conjuction (“and”, “but”, “therefore”, etc.).

examples of propositions

1. I went to the store. (To simplify this to its most basic part would be “I went”. This is the verb and its subject. The “to the store” just explains the proposition more.)

2. We drove to the mountains and went hiking. (In this example, there are 2 propositions: “we drove” and “we went hiking”. You can see that even though the word “we” is only used once it applies to both verbs.)

3. My big, fat, greedy brother ate my taco when I wasn’t looking. (Again this is 2 propositions: “my brother ate” and “I wasn’t looking”. All the other words, simply give more detail to the propositions.)

Always try and supply a subject to each proposition, even if one is not stated. The subject is sometimes stated earlier and you just need to find it and plug it in. Other times the subject is not stated at all. This is the case with imperatives like “Stop!” or “Don’t eat that” (both of these have the implied subject “you”).

When looking for propositions, don’t be fooled by: 1 –  verbal ideas that describe nouns or 2 – verbs as part of clauses which describe nouns.

examples of #1

The girl petted the purring cat. (This is one proposition – “the girl petted”. “Purring” is describing the cat and so is not a separate proposition.)

The boy swatted the fly, buzzing by his head. (This is one proposition also – “the boy swatted the fly”. The word “buzzing” is describing the fly and is not part of a separate proposition.)

examples of #2

The girl who reads books likes to write. (The proposition here is – “the girl likes to write”. “Who reads books” is another adjectival phrase which describes the girl.)

I saw a generic, romantic, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, comedy last night. (This is an extreme example of a phrase that is describing a noun and is not a separate proposition. The simplified proposition is – “I saw a comedy”.)


Discourse analysis has 3 parts

1. Finding the propositions

2. Determining the relationships

3. Summarizing

Propositions are made up of subjects and verbs

Look for the basic part of a proposition and also it’s beginning and end

Some words look like verbs, but are actually functioning as adjectives


For this reflection I will write a paragraph. This is very easy. Simply read it and find all the propositions, then put them in simplified form. Don’t write out the whole proposition. Take special note of punctuation and conjunctions so that you can see the beginning and end of each proposition. This will be good practice for you. I will list the simplified propositions with their subject, verb and object at the end of the paragraph. By the way, this is the paragraph. Go!

1. I will write a paragraph

2. this is easy

3. (you) read it

4. (you) find the propositions

5. (you) put them

6. (you) write out the proposition

7. (you) take note

8. you can see the beginning (and end) – this verb has 2 objects

9. this will be practice

10. I will list the propositions

11. this is the paragraph

12. (you) go



1. Siti - September 29, 2015

Your explanation on propositions has made my reading on proposition of the discourse so much easier. TQ

2. Stephan - May 1, 2018

Thank you for your time! From Brazil, Stephan

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