Dirty, sexy, grammar – head

by Julie Frayn on March 29, 2012 in  Dirty, Sexy, Grammar

Well, let’s see – how to tiptoe around what’s sexy about head?

There’s that big round thing that sits atop your shoulders. That head can be sexy, if it’s filled with humorous, intelligent, humble brains.

Head can also be, well, something else entirely. An act of sorts. Is it sexy? Just plain dirty? Maybe it’s a bit of both. Why, you ask? Do I have to spell it out for you? Well, I’m not going to. That’s some risky business.

In grammar, head is the central element, the key word that determines the nature of a phrase. Without head there is no phrase,* no sentence. Maybe no grammar at all. It rules the roost of the grammar house. Put a crown on that head and we have the queen of the grammar world. Now that’s sexy.

*(Exception is a prepositional phrase. Preppies get no head).

In a noun phrase, the head is a noun or pronoun. In a verb phrase, it is a verb. In an adverb phrase it is an adverb. And so on, and so on…

In some cases one whole phrase can be satisfied with just a little head. Man is a one word phrase. It is also the head. Follow the bouncing logic ball: Man is a phrase that is satisfied by a little head. Yup, proof of exactly what I’ve known for many years.

Here are some examples:

In the noun phrase five spotted dogs, dogs is the head

In the verb phrase play the saxophone, play is the head

In the adverb phrase very quickly, quickly is the head

All together now: Five spotted dogs play the saxophone very quickly. Can anyone guess what that is? Correct! Darned silly.

Seems simple enough? Well, let’s go down on this little grammatical term and watch it grow.

There is a theory known as head-driven phrase structure grammar (HPSG) developed by Carl Pollard and Ivan Sag. I know a lot of men who have head-driven thoughts and theories, but these guys take it to a whole new level. To quote an article on Wikipedia: “It uses a uniform formalism and is organized in a modular way which makes it attractive for natural language processing.” Attractive? Check out the matrix for the word “walks.”

I can think of no better way to make grammar in general, and head in particular, less sexy than that. Yike!

Now, I don’t want to be cocky, but it’s possible you just learned something. Or maybe you’re more confused now than when you started reading. I know my head is spinning. Either way, I hope you enjoyed this little knob of knowledge, and you don’t think I’m off my nut.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

mikey March 29, 2012 at 7:24 pm

i understood all of it……your definitively “off your trolley”

keep it coming


Julie March 29, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I am? Good – then nothing’s changed in all these years. :)

mj monaghan March 30, 2012 at 11:17 am

Julie, you are too funny … and well, too smart.

You sucked me in with the title, had me going, and then you lost me at the HPSG thingy.

I seriously am going to have to break it down to figure it out. MLB (my lovely bride) is a journalist/reporter/communications person and she’ll totally understand it.

I write by instinct, that’s why I don’t know what I’m doing! hehehe

Boy do I have a lot to learn when it comes to structure in literature. Keep teaching, and I’ll keep trying to learn, my friend!


Julie March 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Michael James, you are too kind. But don’t worry, the HPSG thingy makes no sense to me! But these grammar “lessons” are less about the grammar and more about the, uh, you know, other stuff…

Mikalee Byerman March 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I feel both oddly turned on and remarkably smarter — with a side of needing a shower. Or perhaps a cigarette.


See: Grammar CAN be sexy. I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to convince others of this for years!


Julie March 30, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Go for the shower! Cigarettes are bad… :) Yes, grammar is definitely sexy. I hope to reach the masses with this series, one tweep at a time. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Kymber Morgan March 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm

JB! You kill me girl! LOL – keep this up and I’ll have you writing romance yet 😉


Julie March 30, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Haha, no you won’t! I write decent sex, but romance? Well, maybe, maybe not.

Kristy Lin Billuni April 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I love this very good explanation and your sexy approach. I’m delighted to stumble upon your blog!


Julie April 18, 2012 at 7:06 am

Thanks, Kristy! And I’m delighted you stumbled. After reading your sexygrammarian post on commas, em dashes and parentheses, I feel a common bond :D. Have you looked at my post on subordinate clauses? We shared a theme! Love it.

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