Word combinations without head element

September 27th, 20121:06 pm


Word combinations without head element


Classifications of word combination
Word combinations with the head element

As to word combinations without head, they do not seem to share any common structure, peculiar to all groups within this type. In other words, word combinations without the head are structurally more various than word combinations with the head. Elements in word combinations without the head may be linked by the three types of relations: interdependence, co­ordination and accumulation. First of all, however, word combinations without the head are divided into two main groups: independ­ent and dependent. Independent word combinations are structures that may be identified as grammatically organized groups without complimentary context: short and simple, winning and losing, they married.

Dependent groups have other specific features. These word combina­tions may not be identified as grammatically organized groups without com­plimentary context that functions as background against which dependent word combinations are interpreted as syntactically organized structures: her successful (career), quaint baroque (architecture), (agree) straight away, (write) him a letter, (stay) at home all day.

Both independent and dependent groups are divided into further struc­tures: 1) morphologically homogeneous and 2) morphologically het­erogeneous. Morphologically homogeneous word combinations consist of units belonging to one part-of-speech: short and simple, hot tasty (pie). Morphologically heterogeneous word combinations are formed by elements of different word classes: Jack smiled, (see) them approaching.

Independent morphologically homogeneous word combinations are based on co-ordination expressed either by means of a co-ordinate conjunc­tion (ladies and gentlemen) or without it (insects, birds, mammalia).

Independent morphologically heterogeneous word combinations are represented by the only type, namely by word combinations based on predi­cation: she sang, the car broke down.

Morphologically homogeneous word combinations include only one type of constructions, i.e. groups based on accumulation: old black (cat).

Morphologically heterogeneous dependent structures may be of two types: 1) with accumulative relation between components (e.g. his black (shoes)), and 2) with secondary predication (e.g. (to see) him leave).

Morphologically heterogeneous dependent structures are usually repre­sented by attributive regressive word combinations if they are based on ac­cumulative relations (e.g. their expensive (house)). However, constructions of object and adverbial nature are also possible: (to speak) to me about this event, (to come) here to interfere into my work.

Dependent word combinations without the head based on interdepend­ence (secondary predication) are expressed by means of the complex ob­ject – (to hear) the door slam – or absolute constructions – (she left the room), her face pale; the wind getting chilly, (we returned to the hotel).

The list of word combinations mentioned above does not exhaust all possible classes. Still, the list contains the main types of constructions. As a result, word combinations with pronominal heads have not been highlight­ed, since pronouns as well as numerals have syntactic peculiarities similar to those of nouns and adjectives but are characterized by a narrower combina-bility: (to have touched) the real you..

When dealing with the attempts to classify word combinations, it is im­possible not to mention structural types of components within word combina­tions. Elements of a word combination turn out to be either structurally sim­ple or structurally complex, which enables us to form another classification.

Complex structures may be formed in many ways, which requires spe­cial study. Simple components are, in their turn, interpreted as separate words or word groups that include either attributive elements or adverbial elements denoting degree.

Complex elements are traditionally treated as structures based on sec­ondary predication, e.g. complex object (Illness made her feel desperate). However, word combination members are defined in terms of syntactic ele­ments. It is well-known that syntactic elements are characterized by certain positions that may be filled both by a certain morphological class and by other units. In other words, syntactic positions may be filled not only by words but also by word combinations of various types. Thus, particular at­tention should be paid to syntactic positions that may be taken by predica­tive units, i.e. by units traditionally called “subordinate clauses”.

Studies show that any syntactic element, except simple predicate, may be expressed by means of a certain type of predicative unit. For example, the position of the object may be occupied by a predicative unit: I know where they lived.

Similar phenomena may occur in other syntactic positions: the subject and the predicative – What we thought was that they had returned back to the hotel a bit earlier, the attribute – the letter we sent, the adverbial modifier –When she e-mailed the request, she found the information in the Internet.

Classification of word combinations

Word combinations with the head
Regressive Progressive
1. Adverbial Head 2. Adjectival head 3. Nounal head 4. Nounal head 5. Adjectival head 6. Verbal head 7. Prepositional head


Examples: 1. very slowly; 2. absolutely beautiful; 3. a high building; 4. expectations of success; 5. prone to disobedience; 6. paint a picture; 7. at a station

Word combinations without the head
Independent Dependent
8. Syndetic co-ordination 9. Asyndetic co-ordination 10. Interdependent primary predication 11. Accumulation 12. Interdependentsecondary


Examples: 8. black and white; 9. men, women, children; 10. they left; 11. old quaint (house); 12. (they watched) the sun go down

As one may see, any position in the sentence may be taken by the predi­cative unit. It is an acknowledged fact in linguistics that predicative units may function as part of a word combination. This fact, however, results in controversy, since recognizing a predicative unit as a component of a word combination means denying the subordinate clause its status of a unique-syntactic structure.

Sometimes word combinations are analyzed in terms of the morphologi­cal status of words combined rather than in terms of the relations between these words. If studied from this angle, the type “noun + noun” is a most usual type of word combination in Modern English. It must be divided into two subtypes, depending on the form of the first component, which may be in the common or in the possessive case.

Another very common type is “adjective + noun”, which is used to ex­press all possible kinds of things with their properties.

The type “verb + noun” may correspond to two different types of rela­tion between an action and a thing. In the vast majority of cases the noun de­notes an object of the action expressed by the verb, but in a certain number of word combinations it denotes a measure, rather than the object, of the action. This may be seen in such word combinations as walk a mile, sleep an hour, wait a minute, etc. It is only the meaning of the verb and that of the noun that enables the hearer or reader to understand the relation correctly. The meaning of the verb divides, for example, the word combination wait a minute from the word combination appoint an hour!, and shows the relations in the two word combinations to be basically different.

In the similar way other types of word combinations should be set down and analyzed. Among them will be the types “verb + adverb”, “adverb + adjective”, “adverb + adverb”, “noun + preposition + noun”, “adjective + preposition + noun”, “verb + preposition + noun”, etc.

An important question arises concerning the pattern “noun + verb”. In linguistic theory, different opinions have been put forward on this issue. One view is that the word combination type “noun + verb” (which is sometimes called “predicative word combination”) exists and ought to be studied just like any other word combination type such as we have enumerated above. The other view is that no such type as “noun + verb” exists, as the combina­tion “noun + verb” constitutes a sentence rather than a word combination. The opponents to this approach do not consider this argument convincing. They believe that if one takes the combination “noun + verb” as a sentence, which is sometimes possible, one analyzes it on a different level, namely, on the sentence level, and what one discovers on the sentence level cannot affect analysis on the word combination level. They argue that if one takes, for example, the group a man writes on the word combination level, this means that each of the components can be changed in accordance with its paradigm in any way so long as the connection with the other component does not prevent this. In the given case, the first component, man, can be changed in number, that is, it can appear in the plural form, and the second component, writes, can be changed according to the verbal categories of aspect, tense, correlation, and mood (the change of the verb in person is dictated by the first component, and the change of voice is impossible due to the meaning). Thus, the groups a man writes, a man wrote, men are writing, men have written, a man would have been writing etc. may all be viewed as variants of the same word combination, just as man and men are forms of the same noun, while writes, wrote, has written etc. are forms of the same verb. Proponents of this approach insist that a word combination as such has no intonation of its own, no more than a word as such has one. On the sen­tence level things are different. A man writes as a sentence is not the same sentence as Men have been writing, but a different sentence.

It is in such a way that the status of the pattern “noun + verb” as a word combination is corroborated.

Word combinations consisting of two components may be enlarged by addition of a third component, and so forth, for instance the word combina­tion pattern “adjective + noun” (warm day) may be enlarged by the addi­tion of an adjective in front, so that the type “adjective + adjective + noun” arises (wonderful warm day). This, in its turn, may be further enlarged by more additions. The limit of the possible extension of a word combination is impossible to define.