Syntactic Theory

The Head

Properties of the head:

  • syntax: the syntactic category of the head determines the category of the phrase
  • morphology: morphological marking of the entire constituent is often realized at the head (finiteness, tense, agreement, case, number, gender, ...)
  • semantics: the head determines the 'kind' of objects described.


  • clause (S):
    In HPSG the sentence is a projection of the verb. Consequently the VP that is the sister of the subject is the head of the local tree dominated by S.
  • clause (S'), also called CP:
    An S' is introduced by a complementizer or a subordinate conjunction. In many syntactic theories this function word is consider the head of S'. (This is true for both GB and HPSG as presented in this ELLO module.)
  • For the VP, NP, PP, AP, and AdvP the highest verb, noun, preposition, adjective or adverb of the respective phrase is the head.
  • In the case of non-branching trees the single daughter is considered the head.

We have marked the head in the following tree diagram:

Related pages:

Categories: Glossary