Headline Grammar Lessons: Don’t Make These Mistakes In Everyday Language

headline_errorsYears ago as my writing career took root, I learned — by experience — two cardinal sins: Don’t make a mistake in a headline, and don’t misspell a name.

These headlines jumped out at me because of their odd or erroneous word use.

 

Was vs. Were

original: A Lock for a Gold, if There Were One for Slacklining
better: None! The original is fine.

original: If Trump Was Montini His Boss Would Say: ‘You’re fired!’
better: If Trump Were Montini His Boss Would Say: ‘You’re fired!’

Appearing during this year’s Olympics, the first headline uses were correctly. There is not a gold medal for slacklining, so it is hypothetical, something that does not exist. Key word: If

(By the way, slacklining is activity or the sport of balancing on a rope or strip of webbing that is fixed high above the ground but not stretched taut.)

The second headline incorrectly uses was instead of were. Was is past tense, indicating something happened or existed previously. Trump obviously is not, nor has he ever been, Montini.

The well-known song “If I Were a Rich Man” has long been my favorite example of how to remember to use were with the hypothetical if.

 

Redundancies

original: These ‘Toy Story’ Toys Are Exactly the Same 20 Years Later
better: These ‘Toy Story’ Toys Are the Same 20 Years Later

original: Strangers Band Together to Replace Homeless Musician’s Stolen Violin
better: Strangers Join to Replace Homeless Musician’s Stolen Violin
better: Strangers Gather to Replace Homeless Musician’s Stolen Violin
better: Strangers Connect to Replace Homeless Musician’s Stolen Violin

original: MATC West Campus Classes Will be Scattered Around This Fall While New Facility is Readied
better: MATC West Campus Classes Will be Scattered This Fall While New Facility is Readied

Regular readers might remember my test for redundancies: Is there a potential opposite that requires adding a word to clarify meaning?

Exactly the same … as opposed to exactly different?
Band together … as opposed to banding apart?
Scattered around … as opposed to scattered together?

 

Odd word use

original: Arizona Diamondbacks Unveil Aggressive New Uniforms
better: Arizona Diamondbacks Look Aggressive in New Uniforms

Can a uniform be aggressive — ready and willing to fight or argue, feeling or showing aggression, using forceful methods to succeed or to do something — or are the players wearing the uniforms aggressive?

original: 19 Phoenix High-school Students Awarded as Outstanding Young Man, Woman
better: 19 Phoenix High-school Students Earn Outstanding Young Man, Woman Awards

I suspect that the names of the awards are Outstanding Young Man and Outstanding Young Woman. When you use the plural students in the same sentence, there seems to be a mismatch with the singular award names.

 

Meandering modifier only

original: The Winnowing: Next GOP Debate May Only Have 6 Spots
better: The Winnowing: Next GOP Debate May Have Only 6 Spots

original: Federal Election Observers Will Only Be Sent To 5 States
better: Federal Election Observers Will Be Sent To Only 5 States

Modifiers should be placed as close as possible to the words they modify.

 

That vs. Who

original: Cindy Crawford Reveals The 2 Actresses That Are Aging Well
better: Cindy Crawford Reveals The 2 Actresses Who Are Aging Well

People are who. Objects and animals without names are that.

Was versus were, redundancies, misued words, meanding modifiers and that versus who all are topics addressed in Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor. I’d like to send a copy to the newsrooms that produced these headlines. You can get your own by following the above link to Amazon.

And here are even more headline bloopers.

Reminder: I’ll post your grammar pet peeves on Tuesday, October 11. They’re beginning to arrive, so don’t forget to send me yours no later than October 7. No names will be included.

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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