Мосієнко Ю.О. Headline English: discourse review

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Мосієнко Юлія Олегівна – студентка Педагогічного інституту Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка, напрям підготовки «Початкова освіта», кафедра іноземних мов і методик їх навчання Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка

У статті розглядається поняття «заголовок», а також специфіка його cтруктури англійською мовою, відмінності між газетним стилем та літературною мовою. Автор подає основні правила і прийоми в написанні заголовків, список винятків, що зазвичай використовують тільки в пресі. Також демонструє способи, які допоможуть краще зрозуміти вищезазначені кліше.

Ключові слова: заголовок, газета, виняток, кліше, газетний стиль.

В статье рассматривается понятие «заголовок», а также специфика его структуры в английском языке, различия между газетным стилем и литературным языком. Автор дает основные правила и приемы в написании заголовков, список исключений, что обычно используются только в прессе. Также показывает способы, которые помогут лучше понять данные выражения.

Ключевые слова: заголовок, газета, исключение, клише, газетный стиль.

This article examines the notion of ‘headline’, specifics of its formulation in the English language and differences between the literary language and journalese language. The author highlights the main rules and tricks in using heds, the list of exception, which are generally used only in newspapers. And shows the methods that can help in understanding of these terms.

Key words: headline, newspaper, exception, cliché, journalese.


Relevance of the topic

There are plenty of Dictionaries which can help you to interpret what given headline means. But it's important to understand it without outside help.

As headline is the most important element of an advertisement, so the popularity of the newspaper depends on it. Within any printed medium, such as a newspaper or magazine, people will read, or at best skip the headlines of articles. But often readers just right pass the ad entirely. It occurs because of headline doesn’t interest readers. It might be understandable. It usually happens when you read other language newspapers. You can find contractions there, jargons and other words which are unknown for foreign speakers.

The analysis of research

Headlines are examined by such journalists: D. Antarakis, B. Clark, H. Hoover, B. Mitchell, T. Rogers, R. Safont, M. Thompson, K. Tschiesche, P. Williams. A lot of writers try to show the main information about this theme, among them: M. Fortin, D. Gettins, S. Gurevich, T. Hughes, V. Orlov, J. Vitale. Moreover, there are plenty of Glossaries of Newspaper Terms.

The purpose formulation of research

It’s a quite relevant question because many textbook reading tasks start with asking students to look at the title of the piece and predict what they will read from it. This is much more difficult with a newspaper article because the headline is often the most difficult part of the article to understand, and the same is at least as true for students reading on their own. For students who already read the news quite a lot, headline words can also be difficult to use in everyday speech or even be best avoided. The activities below aim to teach them the words they will often come across and show them if and how that vocabulary can be used in their own writing and speech [8].

To analyze educational literature, publications in the field of making headlines journalistic we can highlight following top-priority goals: 1) highlight the structure of the headline; 2) puzzle out its special aspects, the inexactness of newspaper language; 3) find out the difference between the literary language and journalese.

The main material

Headline is the heading or caption of a newspaper article. Newspaper headlines are prose poetry. They have a spare grammar of their own, and they are constrained in size and content more strictly than a sonnet [5].

The headline is the text indicating the nature of the article below it and it’s the main part . It’s sometimes termed a news hed, a deliberate misspelling that dates from production flow during hot type days, to notify the composing room that a written note from an editor concerned a headline and should not be set in type [4].

The large type front page headline didn’t come into use until the late 19th century when increased competition between newspapers led to the use of attention-getting headlines. At the beginning of the message were usually pointed out name of the hometown and departure day [1, р. 157].

It’s necessary to pay the attention to the main rules of hed formation. The Golden rule of writing a great headline is to tell your readers exactly what your piece of content is poised to deliver and save your sense of humor and word play for the body of the article [3].

Secondly, the shorter is the better. People by virtue of their nature don’t like stack themselves by waste information, research suggests that 80% of readers look only at titles. So it helps them hit the high points of the text. And last but not least is felicity. Although the headline is the smallest part of the article, but you don’t have to undervalue it. In press situation is the same. If the title is bad, nobody will read it.

And now it’s important to highlight the specific of English headlines. Headlines in English use a unique set of grammatical rules known as Headlinese [4].

Ironical citations are in very regular use. Such as “To be or not to be – for William isn’t a question”. It is worth noting that some journalists don’t bear in view the original sense of phrase when they use well-known citation. As the reader with a great probability keeps his eye out for familiar words since the childhood / juvenility.

The same thing is about songs. Using of some musical selections is a well-judged action and this trick is on the charts. For example the famous song of Depeche Mode “Enjoy the silence” you can see among plenty of heds. As well as “Nine ten never sleep again” from Elm Street.

Headline writers try to catch the reader’s eye by using as few words as possible. In this article we will represent the basics of the headline style and the rules for headlines.We would like to turn attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling aspects in formulation of headlines. Grammar: Use present tense for past events (but “to be” verbs, such as “is”, “are”, “was”, “were”, “been” should be omitted), e.g. COLUMBUS DISCOVERS NEW ROUTE TO INDIA; GIRL FROM DOWN UNDER COMES OUT ON TOP; a simple form of the verb is used, e. g. QUEEN OPENS HOSPITAL TODAY; use “to” or infinitive words for future events, e.g. SUN TO BURN OUT IN 6 BILLION YEARS; DRUNK GETTING NINE MONTHS IN VIOLIN CASE; omit “the”, “a”, “an”, e.g. NEW FIRE ENGINE HELPS MAKE HOUSES SAFER; omit “be” in its various forms, except when emphasized, e.g. HAMLET ASKS ‘TO BE’ OR NOT? PONDERS, DECIDES TO BE; the infinitive is used to express the fact that something is going to happen in the future, e. g. PRESIDENT TO VISIT MINE; PRESIDENT APPEAL TO POPE;

Punctuation: Use comma for and, e.g. JACK, JILL FALL FROM HILL; use colon for said or says, e.g. GALILEO: ‘I CONFESS EARTH STAYS STILL’; COACH: ‘BEST SEASON EVER’; use single quotation marks, e.g. CAESAR TO BRUTUS: ‘ET TU?’ FALLS BY ‘UNKINDEST CUT’;


There are more aspects of formulation of the heds: Newspaper headlines make use of a great variety of less usual words, which can also make them harder to read by non-native speakers. Headlines also try to be ‘punny’ (making use of close synonyms or related words as a joke) e.g. TORRENTIAL RAIN IN MOST ARIALS – it means a wet open air concert in London by opera singer Luciano Pavarotti; e.g. WOMAN FROM MARS TO FIRST BRITON IN SPACE – it means that the woman working at the Mars chocolate company have got an interesting new job. And alliterative (using a string of words with the same initial letter or sound) e.g. HOW TO TRIPLE YOUR SALES WITHOUT SELLING – it bears in mind advices to increase revenue by 3 times without selling anything, e.g. PATIENT SHOULD BE PATIENT – it bears in mind that patient have to be enduring [2, p. 184].

They tend to use shorter words than normal, and often leave out unnecessary grammatical “extras”. For example: bar – exclude, forbid, e.g. WOMEN BARRED FROM JOBS; blast – explosion, e.g. BOMB BLASTS CENTRAL LONDON; braze – fire, e.g. SHOP BLAZE 5 DEAD; head, boss – manager, director, e.g. PRESIDENT YEADS PEACE MOVES; curb – restraint, limit, e.g. PM TO CURB SPENDING; gems – jewels, e.g. QUEEN’S GEMS RIDDLE; move – step toward a desired end, e.g. MOVE TO CREATE MORE JOBS; ordeal – painful experience, e.g. WOMEN QUITS AFTER JOB ORDEAL; oust –push out, e.g. BID TO OUST PM; pledge – promise, e.g. PM PLEDGES BACKING FOR EUROPE; quit – leave, resign, e.g. ROYAL FAMILY QUITS; threat – danger, e.g. KEY WITNESS DEATH THREAT; wed – marry, e.g. STAR WEDS [2, p. 184-185].

Such aspects make headlines shorter and eye-catching. British newspapers also pander to the educational norms of their readers, and use vocabulary and references aimed at social classes [6].

In order to find out the level of language knowledge we pursued our research. The group of students was selected. We proposed them to translate 10 different headlines into Ukrainian (HOW TO GET YOUR COOKING BRAGGED ABOUT, INCREDIBLE KATE’S AND WILLIAM WED, COUNTY RESIDENTS GROWING OLDER, MAN KILLS 4 AND SELF, TOT WAS STOLEN FROM HOSPITAL, POLICE HAVE THE STRANGER, THE WOMAN WHO TORE BRITAIN APART, POLICE HUNT A SCARED GIRL, UFO LANDS IN SUFFOLK, WAR IS ON).

It should be noted that after the test the students were broken down into the groups, according to their results. The first group includes people with poor knowledge. They even can’t translate some sentences or translate the text very literally, for example, “WAR IS ON” like war in some place and not like it’s started. The incorrect sentences and figurative meaning words they translate word for word and it doesn’t make any sense. And they need someone to put wise on some phrases. What is more they doesn’t cope with any short word forms.

The second group is people with average knowledge. They cope better then the group mentioned above. Students write all sentences and successfully guess some unknown for them words. They naturally have some problems with figurative meaning words, but it’s minor mistake.

The third one is the group of people with good knowledge who can communicate with native speakers, but unfortunately even for them this task is too complicated. Such words as “tot”, “wed” and “bragged” they translate with outside help. It’s caused by their own active and passive vocabulary, because they assert that these words just skip their mind.

At the current stage it should be noted that contractions are the most difficult, because we learn and use fully words in the education institution. Besides, the headline is like a special kind of art and every journalist tries to present his perpetration in a best light. And for this reason they use various touches to lure the audience. That’s why newspapers teem of proverbs, contractions, archaisms, incorrect sentences and figurative meaning words and so on and so far.

Doing such a test it’s very easy to examine student’s level of the English language knowledge, without any other examinations.


Actually, there are plenty of niceties in this case. But the trouble is that such information can change every day, except for cliché. Naturally, there are a lot of inexactness in headline language and the best solution of the problem is to read the main text of the newspaper firstly and then try to translate the headline. Eventually you will learn the main phrases or constructions widely used in the headlines and will be able to read newspapers and magazines without a dictionary.

It’s possible to have problems in understanding of headlines even with good level of language knowledge. That’s why we advice to our students and everyone who study English to be very carefully with reading, translating and understanding of the heds. For this reason appears the factor of fully detailed picture and viewing of this aspect. In future we plan to get a line on this topic by communication with native speaker, as this question is not discovered completely and needed research in perspective.


  1. Gurevich S. M. Newspaper issue: work book / S. M. Gurevich. – Moscow : Aspect Press, 2002. – 191 p.
  2. McCarthy M., O'Dell F. English Vocabulary in Use / M. McCarthy, F. O'Dell. – United Kingdom : Cambridge University press, 1994. – 296 p.
  3. Book Boon Blog [Electronic Resource]. – Mode of access : URL : [1] – Title from the screen.
  4. Electronic encyclopedia “Wikipedia” “Headline” [Electronic Resource]. – Mode of access : [2] - Title from the screen.
  5. LEO Network [Electronic Resource]. – Mode of access : URL : [3] – Title from the screen.
  6. Malcolm's English Pages [Electronic Resource]. – Mode of access : URL : [4] – Title from the screen.
  7. Using English [Electronic Resource]. – Mode of access : URL : [5] – Title from the screen.
  8. The Chronicle of Higher Educational [Electronic Resource]. – Mode of access : URL : [6] – Title from the screen.

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