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Newspaper headlines: grammar

Posted by Manjusha Filed in English Writing

Newspaper headlines are not always complete sentences. Many headlines consist of noun phrases with no verb.

MORE POWER CUTS
TERROR ALERT IN CAPITAL

Articles and the verb be are often left out in headlines.

HUSSAIN PAINTING OBSCENE, SAYS MINISTER
OLD MAN SCALES EVEREST

In headlines, simple tenses are often used instead of progressive or perfect forms. The simple present is used for both present and past events.

FORMER PM PASSES AWAY (= Former PM has passed away.)
BLIND GIRL CLIMBS EVEREST (= Blind girl has climbed Everest.)

The present progressive is used to talk about changes. Be is usually dropped.

EARTH GETTING WARMER, SAY SCIENTISTS (=Earth is getting warmer.)
TRADE FIGURES IMPROVING (=Trade figures are improving.)

Headlines often use infinitives with to refer to the future.

PM TO VISIT CANADA
BUSINESS SCHOOLS TO TAKE MORE STUDENTS

For is also used to refer to future movements or plans.

INDIAN TROOPS FOR IRAQ? (= Are Indian soldiers going to be sent to Iraq?)

Auxiliary verbs are usually dropped from passive structures, leaving only past participles.

SIX PEOPLE KILLED IN EXPLOSION (=Six people have been killed in explosion.)
INDIAN HELD FOR MURDER

Note that forms like held, found and attacked are usually past participles with passive meanings, not past tenses.

Compare:

NUCLEAR DEAL ROW: PM ATTACKED (=PM has been attacked.)
NUCLEAR DEAL ROW: PM ATTACKS OPPOSITION (=PM has attacked his opposition)

A colon (:) is often used to separate the subject of a headline from what is said about it.

POWER CRISIS: GOVERNMENT TO ACT
BUILDING COLLAPSE: DEATH TOLL RISES

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