I am struggling with an exercise. I have not studied English grammar for years so do not remember much. My questions concerns headwords in the following sentences:

  1. the dog with the collar
  2. may work
  3. may have worked

My first thought was that "dog" is the headword in (1), making "with the collar" a postmodifier? The other two examples are trickier. When I asked myself: "what does "may" refer to", the answer of course is "work". Which leads me to think that "work" is the headword in both (2) and (3). Or is there a difference between (2) and (3)? That is my guess since both sentences were included...

Any help would be appreciated!

  • This is in no sense a "Proofreading" question. Not voting to close. In fact this is a nice first question: Clear source, genuine problem, clear attempt to solve with a suggested answer and reasoning.
    – James K
    Jan 27, 2022 at 17:27

1 Answer 1


Firstly these aren't sentences. They are phrases.

In a noun phrase, the head is the noun, which may have pre-modifiers and post-modifiers. In this case, "dog" is the noun, which is modified by a prepositional phrase "with the collar". "the collar" is also a noun phrase but it is part of the prepositional phrase, so "collar" can't be the head.

In the verb phrases, the head is the verb (which may be finite or non-finite) that is combined with modal verbs, auxiliary verbs, adverbs etc. So "work" and "worked" are the head words in these phrases. "May" is a modal verb (indicating possibility), and "have" is an auxiliary verb (forming a perfect tense).

See https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/heads

  • Thank you so much for your reply and your help, I really appreciate it!
    – Catarina
    Jan 28, 2022 at 9:31
  • OK, so some of the exercises got easier after reading the text you linked to. But just to make sure I understand this correctly:
    – Catarina
    Jan 28, 2022 at 12:05
  • OK, so these are trickier: it would seem a phrase such as "during the war" is a prepositional phrase (and thus "during" the headword) as it definies when something happened, but in a phrase like "money in the bank", money would be the headword as it cannot be deleted without changing the meaning of the phrase? So, "money in the bank" would be a NP and not a PP???
    – Catarina
    Jan 28, 2022 at 12:15
  • "Money in the bank" is a noun phrase. The structure is [Noun [prep. phrase]] or take further [Noun [Preposition [NP]] or [Noun [Preposition [determiner Noun]]]. It is not uncommon for a noun phrase to contain a prepostional phrase, which in turn contains a noun phrase.
    – James K
    Jan 28, 2022 at 20:10
  • If this has solved your problem you might consider marking it as accepted, or you can wait to see if you get any more answers.
    – James K
    Jan 29, 2022 at 11:51

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