14

What is the difference between the examples below?

Generally, in a newspaper, news is based on past tense (things which have already happened).

Then why are headlines written in ways that says: He Kills (shouldn't it be: He Killed)?

For example:

Parliament passes bill
vs.
Parliament passed bill

Also

He kills his friend
vs.
He killed his friend

Please help.

18

Why are news headlines written as "He says ..." or "He kills ..." instead of "He said ..." or "He killed ..."?

That is because news headlines are written in a compressed telegraphic style, also known as headlinese.

It might be the best for learners to read this writing style differently from ordinary English. This style has its own special rules of grammar. Short forms, contractions, and abbreviations are usually used. The main reason is to save space.

Here are some useful grammar rules for headlines (the examples are all real news headlines):

  • Headlines often omit articles and the verb to be.

    Venezuelan opposition leader in custody — the leader is in custody
    Old London Air Raid Shelter Becomes Vegetable Farm — no articles
    Husband Finding Peace After A Terrorist Attack — the husband is finding peace

  • Most verbs are in the present tenses (as opposed to progressive or perfect forms). The simple present tense is used for both present and past events.

    Heavy snow triggers collapse
    Obama Wants Tougher Fuel Standards For Big Trucks
    Detroit Maps Entire City To Find Bad Buildings

  • The future is usually expressed as "to" followed by a verb.

    Damon Albarn And St. Vincent To Play NPR Music's SXSW Showcase
    Comcast deal to face antitrust hurdles

  • Auxiliary verbs are usually dropped from passive structures.

    'Trapped' South Africa miners rescued — the miners were rescued
    Yemen: 12 killed, 14 soldiers captured in clashes with militants — 12 people were killed and 14 soldiers were captured


To recap, the simple present tense is preferred. And one good reason to avoid the past tense is because the verb to be is often omitted, which makes the passive voice look like the past tense.

So your tentative headlines could be explained or rephrased like these:

Parliament passes bill — we prefer the present tense

He kills his friend — also the present tense is preferred; using the past tense form could hint the passive voice (see below)

He killed last night — he was killed last night

  • how come this good answer went unnoticed? you may add 'slapped' as an example here. +1 Sir! – Maulik V Apr 17 '14 at 11:11
  • This is very helpful. I should scrap this article so that I can refer to this when confused. Thank you! :) – Gwangmu Lee Jun 19 '17 at 3:53
7

Also be aware of a tense called "historical present" used to describe events in the past as if they just happened or are still happening.

For example: "The year is 1964. The British invasion of America is in full swing while the American invasion of Vietnam is just starting."

4

The news headlines are okay even if they describe the past event as the current one. That's probably because the news is fresh or at least has its effects when you read the news.

Tom kills his friend Dick over a trivial issue OR He killed his friend over a trivial issue - both are okay and convey the message.

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