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Second-largest school district in the US closes over threat New York officials concluded was a hoax that ‘mirrors recent episodes’ of TV show Homeland.

I am lost in the syntactic structure of the above sentence. I roughly understand the meaning: the decision to close the school in the US district made by NY officials was based on false information… But I am not able to parse the original sentence. Every time I try to do it it ends that the hoax was Second-largest school district… Is the word "closes" a verb in the sentence?

  • I think there's a full stop missing before New York. – Alejandro Dec 15 '15 at 20:47
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    @Subjunctive not in this case. relative clause! The "that" has been removed between threat and "New York officials" – Alex K Dec 15 '15 at 21:21
  • @AlexK Nice, I slipped that. – Alejandro Dec 15 '15 at 21:25
  • Headline ambiguities, haha. I remember this: smalltalkbillross.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/clear-communication – justhalf Dec 16 '15 at 6:46
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    Also, if you've read the article, it's important to point out that the "Second-largest school district" which closed is actually Los Angeles, and New York City schools did not close because they concluded that the threat (which they also received) was a hoax. – David K Dec 16 '15 at 13:08
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Newspaper headlines, and titles in general, are often not complete, grammatically-correct sentences. Many people have had great fun pointing out clumsy wording and ambiguity in headlines. But this case is far from the worst.

The headline has a series of verbs and nouns, each of which is modified by a phrase acting as an adverb or adjective. As I think through the structure of the headline, I can see how someone could get confused about what phrases are modifying what nouns.

Let's cut it up like this:

The subject of the main clause is "district", specifically, the "second-largest school district in the U.S.". The verb is "closes". So the bare bones of the statement is "district closes".

"Closes" is modified by a lengthy phrase that is acting as an adverb: "over threat" etc.

Nowo let's take that phrase apart. The key word of the phrase is "threat". The district closed because of a threat.

"Threat" is itself modified. What kind of threat? A threat that "U.S. officials concluded was a hoax".

Then "hoax" is modified. What kind of hoax? A hoax that "mirrors recent episodes of TV show homeland".

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It is "news-speak" for this:

"The second-largest school district in the United States was closed [when? today?] because of a threat [how was it received and from whom?] that New York officials later concluded was a hoax that ‘mirrored recent episodes’ of the television show 'Homeland.'"

"The hoax," as you already pointed out, was the "threat." And you are also correct about "closes" or (in my translation) "closed" being a verb. Once the headline is written as a complete sentence, no further parsing is necessary.

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