The Basic Structure of a Phrase
Phrases consist minimally of a Head. This means that in a one-word phrase like [children], the Head is children. In longer phrases, a string of elements may appear before the Head:
For now, we will refer to this string simply as the pre-Head string.
A string of elements may also appear after the Head, and we will call this the post-Head string:
So we have a basic three-part structure:
Of these three parts, only the Head is obligatory. It is the only part which cannot be omitted from the phrase. To illustrate this, let's omit each part in turn:
Pre-Head and post-Head strings can be omitted, while leaving a complete noun phrase. We can even omit the pre- and post-Head strings at the same time, leaving only the Head:
This is still a complete noun phrase.
However, when the Head is omitted, we're left with an incomplete phrase (*the small in class five). This provides a useful method of identifying the Head of a phrase. In general, the Head is the only obligatory part of a phrase.
copyright The Survey of English Usage 1996-1998
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