I apologize in advance if my question is not put in a way that is grammatical enough.

I have to example phrases:

"1) The Dawning of a New Age" "2) Transfer of Power in the Eighteenth Century"

If I were to arrange each heading in two lines: Where would it makes most sense to split the phrase and why?

I came to the following tentative solution:

"1A) The Dawning / of a New Age" as opposed to "1B) The Dawning of / a New Age"

I opt for 1B because the preposition "of" rather belongs to the first noun phrase than to the second.

"2A) Transfer of Power /in the Eighteenth Century" as opposed to "2B) Transfer of Power in / the Eighteenth Century"

I opt for 2A because the preposition "in" rather belongs the second noun phrase.

Is my reasoning reasonable in grammatical/syntactic terms?

Or would it be more suitable just for reasons of aesthetics (regardless of grammar) to split the phrases consistently before/after the preposition in order to put the heading into two lines for my paper?

Thank you!

  • This is really about formatting style rather than grammar or semantics. But that doesn't mean that grammar and semantics shouldn't influence choice. Your suggestions are sensible, but I feel a single-line approach would be better if at all feasible. Jan 28, 2017 at 16:42
  • Because of the format, there is no way to fit the whole phrase into one single line, unfortunately. Which is why I have to make these darn decisions and I dont know what to base them on. So any suggestion is more than welcome.
    – Sarah K
    Jan 28, 2017 at 17:00
  • I think 'dawning of' is so colligational that you could use either variant here. But 'Transfer of Power in' seems unsatisfying, and probably generates an expected locative (Elbonia) or metaphorically locative (the Elbonian government) prepositional phrase complement. Jan 28, 2017 at 17:25
  • Wow, thank you! Your explanations are always on point! And in this case you rightly point out that it is not only syntax but also semantics that plays a role. In other of-constructions that are less colligational like "The naming of the movement xyz" would you split "The naming of / the movement xyz" or "The naming / of the movement xyz"?
    – Sarah K
    Jan 28, 2017 at 17:53
  • In both cases, the preposition is part of the complement phrase. So if you must split them into two using syntactic criteria, then split by head/complement: "The Dawning" / "of a New Age" and "Transfer of Power" / "in the Eighteenth Century".
    – BillJ
    Jan 28, 2017 at 20:14

2 Answers 2


This question, although ostensibly about typography, is at a deeper level about syntactic boundaries.

I'd say that contemporary practice is to keep the prepositional phrase intact rather than "orphan" a preposition at a line-break, separating it from its object.

P.S. Or you could go all 18th c. and do this:

 in the

and dedicate your paper to some nobleman.

  • 1
    Keeping the phrase structure intact was also my intuitive approach. So my noob question would be: is there a difference in phrase structure with "of" and with "in"? Is it "the dawning / of a new age" or "the dawning of / a new age" in syntactic terms?
    – Sarah K
    Jan 28, 2017 at 17:51
  • Nope. Both are prepositional phrases.
    – TimR
    Jan 28, 2017 at 17:52
  • 1
    So to keep it syntactical all the way I would have to split "The dawning / of a new age", right? (Sorry, my syntax skills are unacceptable)
    – Sarah K
    Jan 28, 2017 at 17:55
  • Your syntactic skills are just fine. Go with your intuition.
    – TimR
    Jan 28, 2017 at 18:00
  • @Sarah K You've got a good nose for the depths involved here. In the Difference between verb+preposition and phrasal verbs thread, John Lawler says '... But there are several intermediate stages; if one insists on binary divisions, one is apt to get cut on the edges. Language is alive, and everything alive is messy because it's constantly changing.' I wouldn't go with 'Nomadic tribes consisting / of several families'. Jan 29, 2017 at 0:37

Sorry: the point is being completely missed, unless you are talking about a ‘heading’ that is not, for instance, a newspaper or magazine heading.

If you were to arrange each heading in two lines - or three, or five or 27 - where to split those lines would depend solely on the length of the line, not the grammar or semantics. Test this by reading headings in newspapers, magazines and even newsletters.

If you do find an apparent correlation between line length and grammar, semantics or syntax, we can be sure that either the operative word there is ‘apparent’ or you will be able to explain why that’s not so… It matters not what preposition belongs to which noun phrase. That kind of reasoning is not right in any terms.

Headlines don’t recognise much of grammar, semantics or syntax; they distort any rule they meet and for pure practicality far above and far beyond any other consideration, force themselves to fit the space assigned. Look at more than two or three real instances and you should immediately see both how and why no question of grammar nor of real aesthetics comes into the way that double-deck headlines are split.

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