Test Your Grammar Mastery: What’s Wrong With These Headlines?

Test Your Grammar MasteryWhen I read a headline with a grammatical shortcoming, I often copy it to save for a blog.

Can you spot the error in each headline before you read my analysis?

1) Will Space-Age Houston Survive Into the Future?

The problem: redundancy
Will implies future, so Into the Future is redundant.

The solution:
Will Space-age Houston Survive?

 


2) Wayfair Workers to Walkout Over Beds Sold to Border Camps

3) Traffic Backups Already as Labor Day Weekend Begins

The problem:
Walkout and Backups as single words are nouns.
I’m certain that the writer intended for them to be verbs (phrasal verbs actually, because they combine a verb and an adverb): Walk Out and Backs Up

The solution:
Wayfair Workers to Walk Out Over Beds Sold to Border Camps
Traffic Backs Up Already as Labor Day Weekend Begins
Traffic Backs Up as Labor Day Weekend Begins


4) California’s Pet Stores to Only Sell Rescue Cats, Dogs and Rabbits

The problem: misplaced modifier only
Only modifies or further explains the word (or phrase) it is closest to. In this case, only modifies sell. A reader might conclude that store staff won’t feed, water or care for the animals; they will only sell them. The rewrite makes clear what I’m certain the headline meant to say: that the stores will offer for sale only rescue animals.

The solution:
California’s Pet Stores to Sell Only Rescue Cats, Dogs and Rabbits

 


5) Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez Trim the Tree with Their Kids

The problem:
Can you picture the children hooked to and hanging from the branches?

The solution:
Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez’s Kids Help Trim the Tree
Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez’s Kids Join in Tree Trimming

 


6) If Animals Could Speak, We’d Probably Eat a Lot Less of Them

The problem:
Less is for uncountable quantities; fewer is for things you can count.

The solution:
If Animals Could Speak, We’d Probably Eat a Lot Fewer of Them

 


7) There’s No Rules Against Flight Attendants Fraternizing With Passengers

8) Artist In ‘This Is America’ Plagiarism Debate: ‘There’s So Many Bigger Issues Facing Us’

The problem:
There’s is the contraction for the singular verb There is. In both of these headlines, a singular verb is paired with plural nouns: Rules and Issues.

The solution:
There Are No Rules Against Flight Attendants Fraternizing With Passengers
Artist In ‘This Is America’ Plagiarism Debate: ‘There Are So Many Bigger Issues Facing Us’


9) Kylie Jenner Covers Forbes as the Next Youngest Self-Made Billionaire

The problem:
Is Jenner the next (in sequence) young person to become a self-made billionaire?
Or she is next youngest in age — the closest in age to the existing youngest self-made billionaire?

The solution:
You have to read the story to learn that Jenner (at age 21) took the title from former young billionaires Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook (at age 23), and Bill Gates, Microsoft (at age 31). Eliminating Next or using New would have been clearer:

Kylie Jenner Covers Forbes as the Youngest Self-Made Billionaire
Kylie Jenner Covers Forbes as the New Youngest Self-Made Billionaire


10) The Men’s Rights Movement Now Has Their Own Law Firm

 

11) Tile Just Fixed The Biggest Flaw in Their Bluetooth Trackers

 

12) The New Everlane Rain Boot Is Here And They Are Only $75

 

13) Add This One Thing to Your Cat’s Food to Help Them Be Healthier

The problem:
Each headline has a mismatched noun and pronoun:
Movement (singular) … Their (plural possessive pronoun)
Tile (singular) … Their (plural possessive pronoun)
Boot (singular) … They (plural pronoun)
Cat (singular) … Them (plural pronoun)

The solution:
The Men’s Rights Movement Now Has Its Own Law Firm

Tile Just Fixed The Biggest Flaw in Its Bluetooth Trackers

The New Everlane Rain Boots Are Here and Sell for Only $75

Add This One Thing to Your Cat’s Food to Help It Be Healthier

If all of those errors made you frown (They did me!), let’s close with a smile from this clever and error-free headline:

Behind the Scenes: Arizona Science Center Takes Wraps off Mummy Exhibit

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson 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)

4 thoughts on “Test Your Grammar Mastery: What’s Wrong With These Headlines?

  1. Avatarwilliam

    Kathy, a funny thing happened on the way… to a concert as it happens. I recited headline #5 to my wife, and immediately heard the problem which went unnoticed during multiple silent readings. I always urge my students to read their writing aloud as a way to judge its flow. It’s all too obvious who failed to follow the prescription.

  2. Avatarwilliam

    I have little or no problem with headline #5. Although somewhat ambiguous, context and logic dictate “with” indicates accompaniment (Latin ‘cum’) rather than instrumentality (Latin ‘ablative of means’). Carrying the ambiguity to its extreme, one could picture the celebrities using their children as little pliers, with which to hang tinsel, etc.

    The beauty of the original headline is that it states only that the children were present, absent any other claims as to their active participation.

    Kathy, I believe this is our most serious disagreement. We don’t need counseling to remain pals, do we?

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      William, I think we’ll survive. Definitions of “with” include: possessing (something) as a feature or accompaniment.
      In this case, I pictured the children as an accompaniment, an embellishment, a feature of the tree added by their parents. In context, yes, we all should realize the intention. But the fact that reading it caused me to pause and form a different picture in my mind indicates to me that it could have been stated more clearly.

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