How to write Newspaper Headlines?
Newspaper headlines are the short titles above the newspaper reports. British and American newspaper headlines are often extremely hard to understand.
Sometimes, of course, this is simply because one doesn’t know enough about what’s been going on in the country recently. Obviously, you can’t understand a headline like “SMITH DOES IT AGAIN!” if you have no idea who Smith is, or what he did the first time. In many cases, however, the problem is a different one: it is that newspaper headlines are written in a special kind of language, almost like a secret code, with its own vocabulary and grammar.
Headlines often contain relatively unusual words which are chosen either because they are short (for example, “gems” meaning “jewels”; “bid”, in the sense of “attempt”), or because they are dramatic (like “blaze”, which is often used instead of “fire”). So even if you have a very wide vocabulary, you probably won’t be able to understand headlines like “PRESS CURB PROBE” (meaning “an investigation into censorship of the press”) without a very good dictionary. (To some extent it depends on the paper: the more serious newspapers use less of this kind of language than the others.)
Newspaper headlines also have a special grammar, which is different from that of ordinary sentences. The main features of this grammar are:
- The omission of articles and the verb ‘to be’
- A special tense system
- The very frequent use of nouns as adjectives
The followings explanations and exercises will help you to deal with these constructions.
The omission of articles and the verb ‘to be’
Here are a few examples. The first three are translated into ordinary language; try to translate the others yourself.
ROYAL DOG ILL
One of the Queen’s dogs is ill.
MOON AMERICAN SAYS US SENATOR
A United States senator says that moon is American.
OPPOSITION CLAIM GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBLE FOR CRISIS
The opposition claims that the government is responsible for the crisis.
DOG WORSE: ROYAL DOCTOR READY TO OPERATE?
SHAKESPEARE PLAY DISGUSTING, SAYS EDUCATION COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN
BRITISH WOMEN MOST BEAUTIFUL IN WORLD, ACCORDING TO MANCHESTER PROFESSOR?
Newspaper headlines use a very simplified tense system.
- It is unusual to find complex verb forms such as ‘is staying’ or ‘has reached’; generally, the simple present form (‘stays’, ‘reaches’) is used, whether the headline is about something that has happened, something that is happening, or something that happens repeatedly. Look at the following examples, and try to put them into normal English.
STUDENTS FIGHT FOR COURSE CHANGES
FAT BABIES CRY LESS, SAYS DOCTOR
- Sometimes the present progressive tense is used (particularly to describe something that is developing), but the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ is left out. Try to rewrite these examples:
BRITAIN HEADING FOR NEW CRISIS
WORLD GETTING COLDER, SAYS RESEARCHERS.
- To refers to the future, headlines usually use the infinitive:
QUEEN TO VISIT BAFFINLAND
BRITAIN TO SPEND MORE ON CANCER RESEARCH
- Finally, passive sentences are constructed with no auxiliary verbs, just the past participle.
So instead of saying, for example, ‘A man is being held by the police’, the headline would probably say ‘MAN HELD BY POLICE’. Headlines like this are easy to misunderstand if you are not careful. For instance, ‘BLACK TEENAGERS ATTACKED IN RACE RIOT’ means that the black teenagers were attacked, not that they attacked somebody else. If the black teenagers did the attacking, the headlines would use the present tense (BLACK TEENAGERS ATTACK). Try to rewrite the following headlines in ordinary English:
67 KILLED ON EGYPTIAN BEACH
LOST CAT RETURNED HOME
BUSH SEEN WITH MUSHARRAF
Use of nouns as adjectives
Even in ordinary English, it is very common to put nouns before other nouns, as if they were adjectives. For example, a rise in prices can be called a PRICE RISE; the leg of a table can be called A TABLE LEG. In newspaper headlines, this often goes to an extreme. Three, four, or even five nouns may be put together into a sort of block, with all the nouns except the last acting as adjectives. Imagine, for instance, that there is a research station in the Welsh mountains trying to develop a waterproof sheep, and that one of the staff turns out to be a spy working for a foreign power. The headline reporting this might compress the essential information into a block of five nouns.
SHEEP RESEARCH STATION SPY DRAMA
Generally, the easiest to understand headlines like this is to start at the end and read them backward: ‘BREAD PRICE RISE SHOCK’ refers to
- The shock caused by (ii) a rise in (iii) the price (iv) bread
Try to rewrite the following examples in ordinary language.
SPACE RESEARCH TALKS PROPOSAL
CAR INDUSTRY UNEMPLOYMENT THREAT
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