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Understanding Newspaper Headlines

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Many students have difficulty understanding newspaper headlines. This is because newspaper headlines are often incomplete sentences (i.e. Difficult Times Ahead). Here is a guide to the most common exceptions found in newspaper headlines.

Noun Phrases

Headlines often contain a noun phrase with no verb. A noun phrase describes a noun (i.e. around strange, exotic people). Here are some examples of noun phrase headlines:

Under Pressure from Boss
Unexpected Visit
Overwhelming Response of Voters

It's useful to ask yourself questions such as: From what?, About what?, From whom?, To whom? etc. when reading these type of headlines. By asking yourself these questions, you can begin preparing yourself for the article. This practice helps the brain prepare itself by starting to think about vocabulary related to the subject. Here's an example:

Unexpected Visit

The questions I can ask myself are: From whom? Why was the visit unexpected? Who was visited? etc. these questions will help focus my mind on vocabulary related to relationships, travelling, surprises, important reasons for visits, etc.

Noun Strings

Another common headline form is a string of three, four or more nouns together (i.e. Country Leader Question Time). These can be difficult because the words don't appear related by verbs or adjectives. Here are some more examples:

Widow Pension Pay Committee
Landscaping Company Disturbance Regulations
Mustang Referral Customer Complaint

In the case of noun strings, it's helpful to try to connect the ideas by reading backward. For example:

Mustang Referral Customer Complaint

By reading backwards, I can guess that: There is a complaint made by a customer about a referral program for Mustang cars. Of course, you need to use your imagine for this!

Various Verb Changes

There are a number of verb changes made to headlines. The most common are:

  • Simple tenses used instead of continuous or perfect forms. For example:

    Forgotten Brother Appears = A forgotten brother has appeared (after a long period of time).
    Professors Protest Pay Cuts = Professors are protesting pay cuts (at the university).

  • The infinitive form refers to the future. For example:

    Mayor to Open Shopping Mall = The mayor is going to open a new shopping mall.
    James Wood to Visit Portland = (Famous actor) James Wood is going to visit Portland soon.

  • Auxiliary verbs are dropped in the passive form. For example:

    Man Killed in Accident = A Man has been killed in an accident.
    Tommy the Dog Named Hero = Tommy the Dog has been named a hero (by the mayor).

Drop Articles

Perhaps you have noticed in the examples above that both definite and indefinite articles are also dropped in newspaper headlines (i.e. Mayor to Choose Candidate). Here are some more examples:

President Declares Celebration = The president has declared a celebration.
Passerby Sees Woman Jump = A passerby has seen a woman jump (into the river).

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