I am a learner of English and have been learning it naturally for a few months. I get confused, when I read something which does not make sense to me. Please check below sentences to understand what I mean.

On newspapers:

John slapped again while campaigning in New York.

But John did not slap anyone but he was slapped by someone. So, I think this sentence should be written something like that:

John was slapped again while campaigning in New York by a man.


John got slapped again while campaigning in New York by a man.


A man slapped John again while he (John) was campaigning in Mumbai.

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    If it is an article title it makes sense. Apr 17, 2014 at 10:59
  • +1 from me. Very good question indeed. The similar feeling I get when the titles use the word sued. I totally agree putting the auxiliary there. I'm waiting for the answers ;)
    – Maulik V
    Apr 17, 2014 at 11:01
  • @LucianSava Upvoted! It's very true but then they should avoid ambiguity. I know titles are flexible but then it should be limited to using the articles.
    – Maulik V
    Apr 17, 2014 at 11:03
  • I documented the headlinese once here: ell.stackexchange.com/a/17710/3281. Apr 17, 2014 at 11:09
  • 1
    @MaulikV Actually (a bit) of ambiguity is good for headlines, as they will rouse peoples interest!
    – oerkelens
    Apr 17, 2014 at 11:13

3 Answers 3


In newspaper headlines, editors tend to leave out as many words as possible for space-economical reasons. It also helps readers to read the headlines very quickly to rouse their interest in reading the rest of the article.

So "A man was robbed while he was sitting at home" becomes:

Man Robbed At Home

Some standard parts of sentences that are left out of headlines are:

  • articles (a man -> man)
  • auxiliary verbs (a man was slapped -> man slapped)
  • copulative "be": (the new major is very happy -> New Major Very Happy)

There are many more, and it can be an interesting exercise to try and reconstruct a complete, correct sentence out of condensed headlines :)

Although a bit of ambiguity is not bad for a headline (it helps attract attention), in this case I do not see ambiguity.

If slapped was meant as an active verb, I would have expected the object to be mentioned - otherwise it makes no sense.

"A man slapped his neighbour" would become "Man Slapped Neighbour", not "Man Slapped Visiting Neighbours House".

For a headline like "Company Sued for Millions", I also see little confusion: if it is the company doing the suing, it is only news while the case is ongoing, so it would be "Company Sues For Millions"

  • But don't you agree that leaving out articles is fine as they don't create ambiguity. In specific case like this, auxiliary should not be avoided. Similar case happened when I read [Some company] sued for millions...
    – Maulik V
    Apr 17, 2014 at 11:08
  • That makes clear sense. A little request, this comment clarifies it better than the answer; would you mind including this as an answer as comments may go unnoticed. +1 for sure.
    – Maulik V
    Apr 17, 2014 at 11:16
  • True that - I moved my comment to the answer :)
    – oerkelens
    Apr 17, 2014 at 11:48

Ditto @Oerkelens.

I'd just add: Yes, headlines often leave out words. Usually the meaning is clear, but sometimes, especially if the newspaper writes a headline quickly without thinking too carefully, it can be ambiguous and/or confusing, not just for people trying to learn the language, but even for fluent speakers.

Every now and then someone throws together a collection of newspaper headlines that are ambiguous in a way that makes them funny. I've seen several such collections that include the headline, "Iraqi Head Seeks Arms". Of course what they meant was, "The leader of Iraq is attempting to acquire weapons", but it brings up an image of a bodiless head searching for limbs. I once saw the headline, "Farmer Bill Dies in House". They meant that a law intended to help farmers was voted down in the House of Representatives. But sure sounds like a farmer named William had a fatal incident in his home. Etc.


Base on your example John is an indirect object of active sentence which means

Someone slapped John again while he was campaigning in New York Active
John was slapped again while campaigning in New York. Passive

Sometimes we can omit the auxiliary verb in passive voice if the object is indirect in active voice, and the sentence can be

John slapped again while campaigning in New York. Passive

  • please correct me if I am wrong
    – Javad
    Apr 17, 2014 at 20:54

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