Understanding Newspaper Headlines


Newspaper headlines: grammar

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

Newspaper Headlines Vocabulary

Short words save space, and so they are very common in newspaper headlines. The following is a list of common headline vocabulary.

Reference: Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (Oxford University Press)

Act: take action; do something
POWER CRISIS: GOVERNMENT TO ACT

Aid: (noun) military or financial help
Aid (verb): to help
MORE AID FOR POOR COUNTRIES
UNIONS AID BANK STRIKERS

Alert: alarm, warning
TERROR ALERT IN THE CAPITAL

Allege: make an accusation
BLIND GIRL ALLEGES UNFAIR TREATMENT

Appear: appear in court accused of a crime
MP TO APPEAR ON DRUGS CHARGES

Axe (verb): abolish, close down
Axe (noun): abolition, closure
POSTAL SERVICES AXED
SMALL SCHOOLS FACE AXE

Back: support
OPPOSITION BACKS PM

Ban: forbid, refuse to allow something
GOVERNMENT BANS SMOKING IN PUBLIC

Bar: refuse
HOTEL BARS FOOTBALL FANS

Bid: attempt
WOMAN MAKES SUICIDE BID

Blast: explosion
Blast: criticize violently
BLAST AT AIRPORT
OPPOSITION BLASTS PM

Blaze: fire
SIX DIE IN TEMPLE BLAZE

Blow: bad news, unfortunate happening
SMITH ILL: BLOW TO WORLD CUP HOPES

Bond: political or business association
INDIA CUTS TRADE BONDS WITH CHINA

Boom: big increase; prosperous period
ECONOMIC BOOM: URBAN RICH TO BENEFIT

Boost: encourage
GOVERNMENT PLANS TO BOOST EXPORTS

Brink: edge of disaster
GLOBAL WARMING: EARTH ON BRINK OF DISASTER

Call for: demand/ appeal for
TRADE UNIONS CALL FOR STRIKE

Campaign: organized effort to achieve social or political result
MP LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN FOR TAX REFORMS

Claim (verb): make a statement that something is true
US SCIENTISTS CLAIM CANCER BREAKTHROUGH

Clamp down on: deal firmly with
POLICE TO CLAMP DOWN ON EVE TEASING

Clash: quarrel, fight
STUDENTS CLASH WITH POLICE

Short words are very common in newspaper headlines. Some of the verbs used in headlines are unusual in ordinary language. Here is a list of words commonly used in newspaper headlines.

Clear: find innocent
MP CLEARED ON DRUG CHARGES

Con: swindle
TEENEGERS CON WIDOW OUT OF LIFE SAVINGS

Crackdown: firm application of the law
GOVERNMENT PROMISES CRACKDOWN ON INFILTRATORS

Crash: failure
TEN PEOPLE DIE IN PLANE CRASH

Curb: restrict
GOVERNMENT TO CURB ILLICIT LIQUOR TRADE

Cut: reduce
US CUTS AID TO INDIA

Dash: make quick journey
PM IN DASH TO BLAST HOSPITAL

Deadlock: disagreement that cannot be solved
DEADLOCK IN INDO-US NUCLEAR DEAL

Deal: agreement
INDIA SIGNS NUCLEAR DEAL WITH US

Drive: united effort
DRIVE TO SAVE PLANET

Drop (verb): give up; get rid of
Drop (noun): fall
GOVERNMENT TO DROP TERROR REFORMS
DROP IN FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT

Edge: move gradually
WORLD EDGES TOWARDS WAR

Firm: determined not to change
PM FIRM ON TAX REFORMS

Flak: heavy criticism
MINISTER FACES FLAK OVER RACIAL REMARKS

Foil: prevent somebody from succeeding
GUARD FOILS BANK ROBBERY BID

Gag: censor; prevent from speaking
AFRICAN PRESIDENT ACTS TO GAG PRESS

Go: resign; be lost, disappear
PM TO GO?

Go for: be sold for
PICASSO PAINTING GOES FOR $5 MILLION

Go-ahead: approval
NUKE-PLAN GETS GO-AHEAD

Grab: take violently
INDIANS GRAB SHARES IN FOREIGN COMPANIES

Grip: control; hold tightly
COLD WAVE GRIPS COUNTRY

In newspaper headlines words are sometimes used in special senses which they do not normally have in ordinary language. For example, when used in a headline, the word bid can mean attempt. Here is a list of common newspaper headlines vocabulary.

Gun down: shoot
POLICE GUN DOWN TERRORISTS.

Hail: welcome; praise
PM HAILS PEACE PLAN

Halt: stop
AUTOMOBILE PLANT TO HALT PRODUCTION

Haul: amount stolen in robbery, or seized by police or customs
MAJOR ARMS HAUL IN CAPITAL

Head for: move towards
ECONOMY HEADING FOR DISASTER, EXPERTS WARN

Hike: rise in costs, prices etc.
INTEREST HIKE WILL HIT REAL ESTATE MARKET

Hit: affect badly
HEAVY RAINS HIT TRANSPORT

Hit out at: attack with words
PM HITS OUT AT CRITICS

Hitch: problem that causes delay
LAST-MINUTE HITCH DELAYS SATELLITE LAUNCH

Hold: arrest; keep under arrest
POLICE HOLD TERROR SUSPECT

Key: important
KEY WITNESS IN THE POACHING CASE VANISHES

Landslide: victory by a large majority in election
LANDSLIDE FOR DEMOCRATS

Lash: criticize violently
OPPOSITION LASHES GOVERNMENT REFORMS

Lead: clue (in police enquiry)
LEAD IN RESORT MURDER CASE

Leak: unofficial publication of secret information
PM FURIOUS OVER TAX PLAN LEAKS

Leap: big increase
LEAP IN FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT

Life: imprisonment for life
LIFE FOR SERIAL MURDERER

Loom: threaten to happen
VAT ON FOOD: NEW ROW LOOMS

In newspaper headlines, words which are short and dramatic are preferred. Here is a list of common headlines vocabulary.

Mar: spoil
VIOLENCE MARS CUP FINAL

Mission: delegation (official group sent to a conference etc)
UN MISSION ARRIVES TODAY

Mob: angry crowd
Mob: organized crime/Mafia
INFANT DIES: MOBS ATTACK HOSPITAL
MOB LEADERS HELD

Move: step towards a particular result (often political)
MOVE TO BOOST TRADE LINKS WITH CHINA

Nail: force somebody to admit the truth
CRIME BRANCH NAILS THE ACCUSED

Odds: chances, probability
MAYOR RE-ELECTED AGAINST THE ODDS

Opt (for) : choose
WALES OPTS FOR INDEPENDENCE

Oust: drive out, replace
DEMOCRATS OUSTED IN UNION ELECTIONS

Over: about; on the subject of, because of
ROW OVER VAT ON FOOD

Pact: agreement
DEFENCE PACT GETS CABINET NOD

Peak: high point
INFLATION HITS NEW PEAK

Peg: hold (prices etc) at present level
BANKS PEG INTEREST RATES

Plea: call for help
BIG RESPONSE TO PLEA FOR FLOOD AID

Press: the newspapers
BID TO GAG PRESS OVER DEFENCE SPENDING

Press for: ask for urgently
OPPOSITION PRESS FOR ENQUIRY ON DEFENCE SCAM

Pull out: withdraw
PAKISTAN PULLS OUT OF PEACE TALKS WITH INDIA

Push for: ask for, encourage
SCHOOLS PUSH FOR MORE CASH

Quit: resign, leave
OPPOSITION LEADER QUITS

Raid: enter and search
POLICE RAID DUCHESS’S FLAT

Rampage: riot
HOOLIGANS RAMPAGE THROUGH STREETS

Rap: criticize
DOCTORS RAP HEALTH MINISTRY PLANS

Riddle: mystery
MISSING TEENAGER RIDDLE: TWO MEN HELD

Rift: division, disagreement
LABOUR RIFT OVER DEFENCE POLICY

Rock: shock, shake
BANK SEX SCANDAL ROCKS THE CITY
JAPAN ROCKED BY QUAKE

Row: noisy disagreement, quarrel
NEW ROW OVER WAGE CUTS

Rule out: reject the possibility of
PM RULES OUT MIDTERM ELECTION

Sack: dismissal from job
STRIKING DOCTORS FACE SACK

Scare: public alarm, alarming rumour
BIRD FLU SCARE IN MIDDLE EAST

Scrap: throw out as useless
GOVERNMENT SCRAPS DEFENCE DEAL WITH ISRAEL

Seize: take especially in police and customs searches
SMUGGLED ARMS SEIZED AT AIRPORT

Set to: ready to; about to
PROPERTY PRIZES SET TO RISE

Slam: criticize violently
OPPOSITION SLAMS DEFENCE POLICY

Slash: cut, reduce drastically
GOVERNMENT TO SLASH HEALTH EXPENDITURE

Slump: fall (economic)
EXPORTERS FEAR NEW SLUMP

Spark: cause to start
REFEREE’S DECISION SPARKS RIOT

Spree: wild spending expenditure
BUS DRIVER SPENDS MILLIONS IN CREDIT-CARD SPREE

Stake: financial interest
GERMANS BUY STAKE IN BRITISH AIRWAYS

Storm out of: leave angrily
TRADE UNION LEADERS STORM OUT OF MEETING WITH MINISTER

Toll: number killed
QUAKE TOLL MAY RISE

Urge: encourage
ENVIRONMENTALISTS URGE GOVERNMENTS TO ACT ON POLLUTION

Vow: promise
EXILED PRESIDENT VOWS TO RETURN