Word combinations with the head element

September 27th, 20121:09 pm


Word combinations with the head element


Classifications of word combination
Word combinations without head

Word combinations with the head element are represented by word groups that form a grammatically organized structure with one element sub­ordinate to the other element. The subordinating element is called the head of the word combination. In the following examples, the head elements are underlined: green leaves, to type a letter, to smile brightly, quite simple.

As it can be seen, relations in head word combinations are based on sub­ordination and may be represented by all the types of subordinate relations, i.e. attributive, object, adverbial, and existential. The dependent element (or elements) does explicate its syntactic status on the word combination level, whereas the head does not reveal its syntactic function on this level. This constitutes the differential peculiarity of the head. In other words, the head of the subordinate structures (head-structures) is the element whose syn­tactic function may not be identified within the structure in question. For example, in the word combination quite simple, the adjective simple is the head, since its syntactic function may not be identified on the level of this particular structure.

The adverb quite is a dependent element and therefore its syntactic func­tion is identified within the given word combination, namely it occurs as an adverbial modifier of degree. In case of extension, the head is shifted: cf. quite simple tasks. Within this word combination, the functions of two ele­ments are explicit – that of the adverb quite (adverbial modifier of degree) and the adjective simple (attribute); the function of the noun remains uni­dentified within the word combination, which gives us the ground to treat this element as the head. A further extension of the word combination shifts the head again: in to give quite simple tasks the Infinitive to give performs the function of the head, whereas the noun tasks is used as an object.

Taking into consideration the mutual position of the head and the de­pendent element in a head word combination, one may distinguish between regressive and progressive word combinations. Let us consider this divi­sion in more detail.

Regressive word combinations with adverbial head

This type of word combinations is structurally most homogeneous, since the dependent element may be represented by the only morphological class – adverbs-intensifiers. The most typical representatives of these word combinations are structures such as very sweetly, rather unexpectedly, quite easily, extremely furiously, pretty clearly.

Some adverbs are unable to form constructions with intensifiers. These are mainly qualitative adverbs, as well as adverbs denoting temporal char­acteristics (like suddenly). Heads of regressive word combinations with the adverbial head may also be adverbs of place -far away, farther north. Other types of spatial adverbs as well as temporal adverbs are not usually capable of combining with a subordinate element.

In the majority of cases, regressive groups with the adverbial head are represented by two-member structures, though three-member constructions are also possible: so very easily, almost too late, far too long.

Though adverbial word combinations with the head tend to be regres­sive, there is a dependent element, namely the adverb enough, which always follows the head. As a result, it forms a progressive word combination: I could do it fast enough.

Regressive word combinations with attributive head

Word combinations with the adjectival head may be both regressive and progressive. Regressive word combinations with the head-adjective are very similar to adverbial structures and tend to contain two members. Depend­ent elements in these constructions may be expressed either by intensifiers or by adverbs: very sweet, quite unexpected, rather easy, extremely furious, pretty clear.

Besides intensifiers and other adverbs, dependent elements may be ex­pressed by nouns: dirt cheap, ice cold, knee deep, dog tired.

Like in adverbial groups, the adverb enough occupies in adjectival struc­tures the place to the right of the head: professional enough.

Word combinations with participles and words denoting state should also be referred to this type: extremely terrified, absolutely alone.

Regressive adjectival groups, just like adverbial word combinations, are characterized by the left-hand position of a dependent element to the head.

One may come across cases where a regressive adverbial group is com­bined with a regressive adjectival group, which creates mixed constructions with a hierarchical two-layer structure: very much happy, almost too polite.

Regressive word combinations with nounal head

Nounal word combinations may be both with the regressive and with the progressive positions of dependent elements, which makes them similar to adjectival constructions.

Regressive word combinations with the nounal head may vary when the number and the morphological properties of left-hand dependent elements are concerned. In case there is only one dependent element, morphologi­cal ways of its expression are also quite numerous. This position tends to be taken by possessive pronouns (my house, their parents), demonstrative pronouns (this restaurant, those actors), adjectives (white roses, lucky day), participles (lost generation, falling leaf). One cannot but mention the group of adjectives that may function only in pre-position, i.e. as left-hand de­pendent elements: a mere trifle, utter fear, sheer absurdity.

The position of left-hand dependent elements within word combinations in question is often occupied by nouns: world war, power supply, cigarette smoke, family reunion. The noun may also be formed by the formant ‘s: Frank’s invitation, Cynthia’s opinion, boys’toys. The left-hand position may be taken by numerals, both cardinal and ordinal: five books, first love.

If there are several dependent elements in nounal word combinations, the dependents tend to be morphologically different: my own decision, these hot summer days, the only upstairs occupant.

Though traditionally either the Infinitive or words of state or finite forms of the verb are not mentioned as possible ways to express pre-positional at­tributes, one may come across some cases of their use in Modern English, e.g. his to-die-for car collection; I’m-going-to-treat-you-like-a-grown-up talks; a dog-eat-dog world, etc.

One of the most disputable questions related with the structure of re­gressive nounal groups is the order of pre-positional attributes, particularly if those are several adjectives. The issue has been touched upon in many studies, but scholars seem to arrive at opposing conclusions.

Practical grammars usually recommend the following order, based on semantic classes of adjectives. The pattern is as follows: personal evalua­tion – size – age – shape – colour – origin – material (e.g. a beautiful small medieval round black Italian wooden table).

Now, let us turn to progressive word combinations with the head. It should be noted that it is mainly the noun and the adjective that appear as head of both regressive and progressive word combinations. Nevertheless, the verb may acquire this ability, too. It may be observed in word combina­tions with adverbs.

As to nounal word combinations with right-hand dependent elements, these are characterized by different morphological status of dependent compo­nents compared to word combinations with left-hand extension. Nouns func­tioning as heads of progressive groups combine, as a rule, with prepositional phrases: a state of affairs, the book in question, food for thoughts. Nouns in prepositional groups may occur in the possessive case: a friend of John’s.

Besides prepositional groups, the function of dependent elements may be performed in progressive word combinations by subordinate clauses: e.g. the man who delivered the goods; the story which he could never forget or

cannot change the sequence of events that followed that fateful trip. (Parks)

I loved the venues you picked. (Parks)

The emotion he felt was one he had not felt for some time. (Brown) Though post-positional attributes, expressed by isolated adjectives, are rare in English, these structures do occur, e.g. Paradise Lost (used as ti­tle), words unspoken. This word order is particularly characteristic of word combinations with heads other than nouns: something strange, somebody familiar.

Isolated adverbs of place and time are quite widely used as attributes in post-position to the nounal head: the man upstairs, the road back, a year later, the dinner afterwards. This position is also peculiar to isolated non-finite forms: proposal to consider, research done in the field, articles high­lighting the event.

It should be noted that nounal word combinations may have a compli­cated structure, with the noun subordinating not only certain parts of speech but also prepositional groups, non-finite forms and predicative units: the book for you to read.

However, the most typical attribute in word combinations of the type contains the preposition of that may have quite diverse meanings. Thus, if the noun denotes an action, the preposition of may mark subject or object relations. For example, the word combination the punishment of the criminal means that somebody punished the criminal. Consequently, there are object relations between the modifier and the modified, since the criminal denotes an object of the action expressed by the modified noun the punishment. On the other hand, the word combination the escape of the criminal conveys dif­ferent relations between the modifier and the modified, since the doer of the action, expressed by the noun escape, is expressed by the noun criminal. This word combination may be transformed into the predicative construction The criminal escaped, which reveals subject relations between the head and the attribute.

In regressive and progressive nounal word combinations, dependent elements are traditionally identified as attributes regardless of the mean­ing conveyed. Though there used to be a tendency to distinguish in such constructions between attributes and objects, this approach, however, did not receive much support. As a result, elements, subordinated to nouns, are treated as attributes.

Progressive word combinations adjectival head

Unlike nounal groups where all dependent elements are granted the syn­tactic status of attributes, syntactic relations in adjectival constructions de­pend on the position of a dependent element to the head. In case of adjecti­val head, all left-hand dependent elements are classed as adverbial modifiers of degree, whereas all the right-hand elements (except the adverb enough which also is interpreted as adverbial modifier) are treated as objects. The adjective is typically the head of prepositional object structures, e.g. rich in resources, full of hope, keen on music, accessible to foreigners.

Adjectives are rarely followed by dependent elements without a prepo­sition, e.g. worth the trouble. The function of an object is, however, often performed by the Infinitive: interesting to watch, happy to agree, difficult to understand. This interpretation of the Infinitive is corroborated with the help of substitution. The substitution proves that the Infinitive may be re­placed by a wh-word of the nounal type, which indicates the nounal nature of the substituted element: what for/for what.

Progressive word combinations with verbal head

Progressive verbal constructions are numerous and diverse. They are usually subdivided into three main types: 1) object, 2) adverbial, and 3) existential.

The object subgroup is based on two relations that appear between the verb and the object: prepositional and without a preposition. Structures without a preposition contain transitive verbs and intransitive verbs that are capable of being used with the so-called cognate objects: to live a miserable life, to smile a happy smile, to die a violent death, to grin a crooked grin, etc.

Verbal word combinations with transitive verbs are formed by verbs with diverse meanings. These are verbs denoting concrete physical actions (to close the door, to wrap the cake, to pour water), verbs of perception (to see a picture, to hear voices), verbs of psychic state (to need attention, to forget a verse). This group also includes such verbs as to say, to answer, to tell, to whisper.

Prepositional verbal structures may be illustrated by the word combina­tions to laugh at the joke, to object to the suggestion, etc. As we can see, both prepositional word combinations and combinations without a prepo­sition may contain dependent elements of various morphological status: nouns as well as non-finite forms, e.g. to detest arguing, to start to smoke, to suggest returning back, to insist on paying back, to speculate on what he would have done.

Intransitive verbs may not combine with any type of objects except cog­nate one, but such verbs tend to be combined with various types of adverbial modifiers: to dismiss off-hand, to drive slowly, to arrive in time, to travel north. Here the dependent element may be expressed not only by the adverb (though it is often the case) but also by a prepositional group, non-finite forms or predicative units: to go to Edinburgh, to stay for two days, to turn up to help, to go looking around, Jack wanted to talk to you before he left home.

As to existential word combinations with the head, they are based on existential relations, form only progressive structures and are represented by a very limited number of morphological variants. The only morphological type of the head of such word combinations may be a link (copula) verb, the dependent element may belong to various parts of speech, the most typical being the adjective: to be happy, to seem delighted, to stay calm, to appear stunning, to become cheerful.

When the link-verb is used in the finite form, the whole word combina­tion performs the function of the compound nominal predicate. Verbal non-finite forms in existential word combinations indicate that they may function as any sentence part except the predicate: Staying brave in danger is next to impossible; Turning old remained for Clair the most terrifying thing.

Progressive word combinations with prepositional head

Progressive structures with the prepositional head require specific theo­retical argumentation. Traditionally, the preposition is ascribed the status of a function word. Therefore, one may doubt whether the preposition can function as head of a prepositional word combination. Still, the claim that there are prepositional word combinations is supported by the fact that the preposition is able to govern the following element: government indicates relations of subordination within a word combination and helps to identify the head, since it is the governing element that dominates in a given word combination. Though in English subordination is peculiar only to personal pronouns, theoretically it is sufficient ground to prove the head status of the preposition. In some cases, the form of the element following the preposi­tion remains unchanged. This phenomenon stems from the fact that English nouns have lost the form of the accusative case.

Recently, the interpretation of lexical meaning expressed by the prepo­sition has been reviewed. Some linguists believe that prepositions do have lexical meaning, which resulted in a different interpretation of this part of speech. If prepositions are treated as words with their own semantic con­tent and extralinguistic reference, as words that, when included in the sen­tence, are capable of contributing to the information expressed, then the preposition may not be interpreted as element linking lexical words, or as equivalent to case inflections or other linking morphological means. Con­sequently, in syntactically organized groups, the preposition is thought to fulfill two functions: on the one hand, it is an element with its own lexical meaning, used alongside of other elements to express certain information, on the other hand, the preposition links these other elements. The functions of the preposition have much in common with those of link-verbs: these are also used to express the link between the subject and the predicative as well as to deliver a certain semantic message: cf. His hair is grey and His hair is growing grey. The claim that the preposition does have lexical meaning leads to the following conclusion: the preposition is not a formal word used to link two lexical words. It conveys its own meaning and may be related to other words by various syntactic relations, government included: to look at them to look at the girl, to rely on her to rely on industry.