Phrase categories

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Lecture 6: Phrase Categories, Constituents
G2 Basic Sentence Structure

Sandhya Sundaresan November 26, 2008

1 Recap and what’s up ahead
We ended last week by learning how to represent phrases with trees. We also learned some terminology related to the parts of a tree: • If A and B are two phrases at the same level, A and B are sisters. • If A occurs above B, then A is said to dominate B.• If A occurs directly above B, then A is the mother of B. B is the daughter of A. In today’s class we move from phrases to phrase categories. We will learn how to determine the category of a phrase by identifying the head of a phrase. Then we will look at the properties of phrase categories like noun phrase (NP), verb phrase (VP), etc.

2 From Phrases to Phrase Categories
• So far, we’ve talkedabout phrases abstractly. • For example we have given phrases names or labels like P HRASE 1, P HRASE 2, and P HRASE 3. • But these labels don’t tell us anything about the type or category of the phrase and so aren’t especially useful. • So now we’ll look in detail at different types of phrases - or phrase categories. • Just as morphemes have morpheme categories, and words have word categories,phrases have phrasal categories. • Phrasal categories, just like word categories, are ultimately much more useful than just individual phrases, for the study of sentence structure.


• A phrasal category is directly determined by the category of the word which the phrase is about. • Such a word is called the head of the phrase.

2.1 How to determine a phrasal category: the concept of a“head”
• The head of a phrase is the main word of that phrase. It is essentially what the entire phrase is about. • The category of a phrase is directly determined from the category of its head. To see how this works, consider again the following example sentence, with the phrases marked out in brackets: (1) [The tiny woman] [went [to [the store ] ] ] Again, based on what we said in the previoussection: Sentence (S) = The tiny woman went to the store Phrase 1 = the tiny woman Phrase 2 = went to the store Phrase 3 = to the store Phrase 4 = the store What is the head of Phrase 1? In other words, what is Phrase 1 mainly about? What does it refer to in the real world? It is essentially talking about a woman. The other words the and tiny give us more information about the woman but this is extrainformation. The main word in the phrase is woman. So, the head of Phrase 1 is woman.

2.2 Determining the phrase category
What is the category of woman? It is a noun. • The category of the phrase is determined by the word category of its head. • The word category of the head is: Noun. • Therefore, the phrasal category of Phrase 1 is: Noun Phrase (NP, for short). Similarly, in Phrase 2, the headis: went because this is the main information. That the woman went to the store (and not somewhere else) is extra information. So, the head of Phrase 2 is: went. The word- category of went is verb. So, Phrase 2 is a Verb Phrase (VP). In Phrase 3, the head is: to. Even if it doesn’t seem so obvious, the phrase is actually talking about the woman going to a place, so the head of this phrase is to.The category of to is preposition. So, Phrase 3 is a Prepositional Phrase (PP). 2

Finally, the head of Phrase 4 is: store. This is of the word category: Noun. Therefore, the phrasal category of Phrase 4 is: Noun Phrase. The general steps we’ve used to determine a phrasal category are as follows: • Pick out the phrase • Identify the head of the phrase. (E.g. woman, went, to, store, . . . .) •Determine the word category of the head. (E.g. Noun, Verb, Preposition, . . . ). • If the head is of category X, then the phrase is of category XP (P = Phrase)

Exercise 1: Mark the head in each of the phrases below. Only identify the head of the whole phrase (i.e. don’t worry about phrases contained within the main phrase): • very quickly • ran very fast in order to catch the thief. • angry...
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