1 special language
Headlines are the short titles above news reports (e.g. RUSSIAN WOMAN LANDS ON MOON). English news headlines can be very difficult to understand. One reason for this is that headlines are often written in a special style, which is very different from ordinary English. In this style there are some special rules of grammar, and words are often used in unusual ways.
a Headlines are not always complete sentences. Many headlines consist of noun phrases with no verb.
MORE WAGE CUTS HOLIDAY HOTEL DEATH
EXETER MAN’S DOUBLE MARRIAGE BID
b Headlines often contain strings of three, four or more nouns; nouns earlier in the string modify those that follow.
FURNITURE FACTORY PAY CUT ROW
Headlines like these can be difficult to understand. It sometimes helps to read them backwards. FURNITURE FACTORY PAY CUT ROW refers to a ROW (disagreement) about a CUT (reduction) in PAY at a FACTORY that makes FURNITURE.
c Headlines often leave out articles and the verb be.
SHAKESPEARE PLAY IMMORAL SAYS HEADMASTER
SCHOOLBOY WALKS IN SPACE
d In headlines, simple tenses are often used instead of progressive or perfect
forms. The simple present is used for both present and past events.
BLIND GIRL CLIMBS EVEREST (= … has climbed … )
STUDENTS FIGHT FOR COURSE CHANGES (= … are fighting … )
The present progressive is used to talk about changes. Be is usually dropped.
BRITAIN GETTING WARMER, SAY SCIENTISTS
TRADE FIGURES IMPROVING
e Many headline words are used as both nouns and verbs, and nouns are often
used to modify other nouns (see paragraph 2b). So it is not always easy to work
out the structure of a sentence. Compare:
US CUTS AID TO THIRD WORLD (= The US reduces its help … CUTS is a
verb, AID is a noun.)
AID CUTS ROW (= There has been a disagreement about the reduction in
aid. AID and CUTS are both nouns.)
CUTS AID REBELS (= The reduction is helping the revolutionaries. CUTS is
a noun, AID is a verb.)
f Headlines often use infinitives to refer to the future.
PM TO VISIT AUSTRALIA
HOSPITALS TO TAKE FEWER PATIENTS
For is also used to refer to future movements or plans.
TROOPS FOR GLASGOW? (= Are soldiers going to be sent to Glasgow?)
g Auxiliary verbs are usually dropped from passive structures.
MURDER HUNT: MAN HELD (= … a man is being held by police. )
SIX KILLED IN EXPLOSION (= Six people have been killed … )
Note that forms like HELD, ATTACKED are usually past participles with
passive meanings, not past tenses (which are rare in headlines). Compare:
- AID ROW: PRESIDENT ATTACKED (= … the President has been attacked.)
AID ROW: PRESIDENT ATTACKS CRITICS
(= … the President has attacked her critics.)
- BOY FOUND SAFE (= The missing boy has been found safe; he is safe.)
BOY FINDS SAFE (= A boy has found a safe.)
h As and in are often used instead of longer connecting expressions.
HOSPITAL BOSS AXED AS PATIENTS DIE (= … because patients die.)
FOOTBALL MANAGER IN CAR CRASH
A colon (:) is often used to separate the subject of a headline from what is said about it.
STRIKES: PM TO ACT MOTORWAY CRASH: DEA TH TOLL RISES
Quotation marks (” .. .’) are used to show that words were said by somebody else, and that the report does not necessarily claim that they are true.
CRASH DRIVER ‘HAD BEEN DRINKING’
A question mark (?) is often used when something is not certain.
CRISIS OVER BY SEPTEMBER?
Short words save space, and so they are very common in headlines. Some of the short words in headlines are unusual in ordinary language (e.g. curb, meaning ‘restrict’ or ‘restriction’), and some are used in special senses which they do not often have in ordinary language (e.g. bid, meaning ‘attempt’). Other words are chosen not because they are short, but because they sound dramatic (e.g. blaze, which means ‘big fire’, and is used in headlines to refer to any fire). The following is a list of common headline vocabulary.