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The title of this article is:

High-ranking House Democrat dealt surprise defeat at polls

According to this dictionary,I figure the verb deal means this sense:

  1. (transitive)

    to give (a blow) to (someone); inflict

As it's just a heading of that article, I can't figure how exactly I should use the verb deal for this sense. Which one(s) following are correct?

  1. High-ranking House Democrat is dealt surprise defeat at polls.

  2. They dealt surprise defeat on High-ranking House Democrat at polls

  3. They dealt a humiliating defeat on the home team.

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    This use of deal is headlinese. It's perfectly grammatical and understandable, but I would not use it except in a headline. The first two of your examples are also headlinese, as you can tell from the missing article because "surprise defeat". Your third example is more normal, but I would use "to" rather than "on".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 9:07

2 Answers 2

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To be dealt something is to have it be given to you, as a card dealer deals a hand to a player; just as the player does not select the cards, you do not choose what has been dealt to you. It is typically something bad.

They were dealt a financial setback when the car broke down, the heater failed, and the roof began to leak all in the same week.

They dealt him a great disservice by revealing to a competitor several of his proprietary algorithms.

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I would read it like this:

A high-ranking House Democrat is dealt a surprise defeat at the polls.

Little things like articles and different forms of the verb "to be" are often omitted in news article titles for the purposes of making things shorter and more to to the point. Notice that even though I wrote is dealt, we all understand that the whole situation is actually past-tense and it should really read was dealt. Once again, keeping the situation present-tense makes it sound more dramatic as is very typical for news article titles. This style of written English is called headlinese.

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  • Thanks for the answer! I'd also like to know how to put this usage of deal into a sentence. I've tried to put it into those sentences in my answer, but I am not sure if I use it correctly. The reason why I ask this is that I couldn't find more examples to demonstrate this usage. Appreciate if you can elaborate it. Thanks!
    – dan
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 9:30
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    Well, you deal a defeat to somebody: They dealt a surprise defeat to a high-ranking House Democrat at the polls. They dealt a humiliating defeat to the home team. In terms of grammar, the closest thing to the expression in question that you can find in dictionaries would be the idiom to deal a death blow to someone: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/deal+a+death+blow Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 9:39
  • as I see deal it a death blow, can I say They dealt the home team a surprise defeat.?
    – dan
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 10:07
  • Grammatically, it's probably fine. However, I'm not sure if it's very idiomatic. Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 10:23

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