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Does anyone know or can suggest a term for the following expressions:

lady-in-waiting  
brother-in-law  
sergent-at-arms  
bride-to-be  
etc.  

Expressions like those above are special for (at least) two reasons:
1. The plural attaches to the first noun, rather than to the entire expression, hence

ladies-in-waiting  
brides-to-be

but not

*lady-in-waitings 
*bride-to-bes 

2. The dependent PPs do not seem to be modifiable, hence the next examples are bad:

*lady-in-long-waiting  
*bride-to-be-late  

There is more that distinguishes these expressions from nouns with adjunct PPs, but this should suffice as background.

Any ideas what these expressions are called? Or do you have a suggestion?

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  • I believe dependency theories talk about "head-initial" and "head-final" constructions. That's the distinction here; the head noun comes first (and gets pluralized) and is followed by some modifier that doesn't get inflected. Attorneys general, brides-to-be, ex-mothers-in-law-to-be. Normally modifiers precede the head noun: rail cars, bean soups, pony rides, snake bites.
    – jlawler
    Jul 7 '14 at 19:37
  • @jlawler Everything is either head-initial or head-final in DGs. Hence this is not much of a distinction. The compound make up is also head-initial, but clearly not of the type addressed in my question. Jul 8 '14 at 5:29

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