Let's take the example 'A kiwi is [a type of bird]'.

Page 109 of this book https://faculty.mu.edu.sa/public/uploads/1367260110.5528Understanding%20Syntax.pdf sais that the head of a phrase:

A. Has the same distribution as the entire phrase

B. Is the one obligatory item in the phrase

That would mean that the head of [a type of bird] is 'bird' because we can say 'A kiwi is a bird' and not X'A kiwi is a type'.

This seems to be different to partitives, where 'some' does seem to be able to act as the head: 'Some of his remarks were quite flattering', 'Some were quite flattering' (some context retrieving needed?).

I guess the problem is that this goes against how we normally analyze these phrases. How can a word embedded in a PP which is embedded in the root NP be the head of the root NP? I suppose it would follow that of is a complement of kind and kind is an adjunct NP? And that this preposition (if it is even a preposition) isn't selecting a complement. Or is 'type' indeed the head? If so, what is the evidence that it is?


  • 1
    Head is a definitional term; i.e, every linguist who uses it has their own definition and set of criteria. If you want to know how the author of your textbook would parse a sort/type/kind of N, you'll probly have to drop them a postcard. And quite possibly both parses are available to many speakers, depending on the details of their particular grammar.
    – jlawler
    Feb 9, 2018 at 1:07
  • So what would you say?
    – dylbro
    Feb 11, 2018 at 3:41
  • I wouldn't say anything about which is the head, unless I had a reason to want to call one of them the 'head". Usually I don't.
    – jlawler
    Feb 11, 2018 at 17:25


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