This is from the BBC:

Princess of Wales has planned abdominal surgery.

On seeing this sentence in big fonts, I thought she has made a plan about her surgery in the days to come, because I thought it is a sentence like this:

Mary has planned a day trip to the Arctic Circle.

However, when I read the news, I understood that she actually already underwent the surgery. So I got surprised and wanted the find out where the misunderstanding comes from. In the end, it seems to me ".....have planned something..." can have 2 meanings:

  1. you made a plan about something and you haven't done it yet.

  2. you have done that something which had already been planned.

Is that right?

  • 1
    This is not quite a en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden-path_sentence, but a similar idea. Two interpretations based on "planned" as an adjective vs "has planned" as a verb. Thanks for the funny example!
    – Kaia
    Commented Jan 17 at 18:48
  • 3
    'Planned' has a specific meaning in surgery… not too difficult a meaning, but it does mean the operation was pre-determined by all parties in advance, rather than it being an emergency decision, for instance after an accident. The correct term is 'elective surgery'. Commented Jan 17 at 19:25
  • Trust the BBC to be indiscrete about such things.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18 at 8:58
  • Mathematicians may argue that language is missing parentheses. (She has) (planned surgery) versus (She has planned) (surgery). Commented Jan 20 at 21:20
  • Neither, ever. That phrase does not mean 'She has undergone the surgery' nor 'She has not' 'She has planned abdominal surgery' has two, very different meanings, neither seeming relevant to your Question. One is that she has prepared for… surgery. The other is that she is now undergoing that surgery. Other interpretations might work and if they do, please say how! Commented Jan 23 at 22:59

2 Answers 2


This is 'headlinese'. The actual first sentence of the article says "The Princess of Wales has had planned abdominal surgery." News headlines are usually written in the present tense and leave out some words.

'Planned' here is an adjective, meaning that the operation had been planned in advance and was not an emergency.

Occasionally, headlines can be so ambiguous that they make you laugh; these are sometimes called crash blossoms.

  • 3
    Yes - if this were a normal sentence, it would mean "The Princess has made a plan to have surgery". Native speakers are used to interpreting 'headlinese', which doesn't follow the normal rules of grammar. Commented Jan 17 at 15:30
  • 6
    Incidentally, the headline has now been edited to "Princess of Wales in hospital after abdominal surgery". Commented Jan 17 at 16:07
  • 2
    @MichaelHarvey - But their doctors may plan it for them ! Commented Jan 17 at 17:07
  • 2
    @MichaelLorton sure they do. A surgery is oftentimes scheduled for the next day, next week, after obtaining consent etc. If it's scheduled, it's planned.
    – justhalf
    Commented Jan 18 at 4:01
  • 4
    Since headlines are usually in the present tense (unless it's significant that it's reporting something that took place in the past), they would be more likely to say "... plans abdominal surgery".
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 18 at 15:46

The headline is ambiguous; there are two possible ways of interpreting it. We don't know with certainty which interpretation is correct, until we read the article.

The first interpretation is that the Princess has planned something (meaning that it hasn't happened yet), and the thing that she's planned is an abdominal surgery.

The second interpretation is that the Princess "has" something (meaning "had"—the headline uses the present tense even though it describes a past event), and the thing which she has is a planned abdominal surgery. According to this interpretation, the abdominal surgery is something that was previously planned, and now she has actually had the surgery.

So, your interpretation here is not quite right:

In the end, it seems to me ".....have planned something..." can have 2 meanings:

1-you made a plan about something and you haven't done it yet.

2-you have done that something which had already been planned.

Only the first meaning is possible. However, the structure of this sentence is not that the Princess "has planned something." Rather, the princess "has something," and, as it happens, the thing that she has begins with the word "planned."

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