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How To Understand Conflicts In English Grammar


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How To Understand Conflicts In English Grammar

The following two quotes are from the same article and about the same event, one is a title, and one is its first paragraph. How to explain its absolute different grammars?

Saudi Arabia severs ties with Iran, expels Iranian diplomats ​


Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it had severed ties with Iran over the storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, in a worsening diplomatic crisis between the regional rivals following the kingdom's execution of a prominent Shia cleric. ​

Edited by Exegesisme
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Do you mean the change of tenses from present tense 'severs' in the headline to the past tense 'severed' in the paragraph?

Headline writing is a weird task of word-working. The purpose of the headline is to attract attention and let the reader know what the following story will be about yet do so with as few words as possible. Headlines are allowed by the public to play around with facts a little bit but only just a little bit.

The headline uses the present tense because the breaking of diplomatic relations with Iran is new and had'nt been reported before

Plus also too 'severs' in the headline means the event is happening right now at this very moment and hopefully will grab the readers attention.

Since this diplomatic development is only being reported now for the first time and only occurred less than 24 hours ago - and its in a headline - the use of severs is acceptable.

To be accurate and fully conform with the first paragraph the headline would need to use the word severed. "Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran, expelled Iranian diplomats" ,while accurate, does not convey any sense of immediacy. A reader of headlines could very well think the headline is talking about an event that occurred years and years ago, would be of historical interest only and passed over in search of something more interesting - maybe Trudeau's hair or something or Putin going shirtless again.

To avoid that perception and still remain consistent with the tense in the first paragraph, the headline would need extra words.

"Yesterday Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats" would work quite nicely ... except that is a good opening sentence for the following paragraph and not a headline.

Editors attack such headline wordiness with great zeal. A habit learned in the days of type-setting.

Dump 'Yesterday'; change severed to severs; replace 'and' with a comma; change expelled to expels. Fourteen characters are saved; the headline changes from boring old past events to the much more exciting present and closely conforms to the story that follows since is speaks of very recent events.

An other option is to change the tenses of the paragraph to conform to the present tense of the headline. Unfortunately such a paragraph would be a very strange thing to read. Because the event being reported actually did happen in the past it must be written in the past tense. Remember that this is now information being conveyed to the reader and not a very very basic headline.

The reporter is reporting an event that happened on Sunday - not right now. The reporter is absolutely correct to write the paragraph in the past tense and in fact pretty much had to in order to write a coherent article.

Edited by Peter F
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Thank you very much.

Your explanation lets me think about two principles of philosophy of language:

First, a speaker should say as clear as possible, as in the text of the article;

Second, a learner should understand with her or his own experience, as in the headline of the article.

Conflicts in English grammar? Looking for a job?

1. In your letter proposing employment, make no spellng mistake.

2. Uh, in your letter, don't mention Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Edited by August1991
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  • 5 years later...

English grammar itself is unstable, lol. But, in this case, everything is pretty straightforward. As mentioned above, the headline's purpose is to attract attention and let the reader know what the following story will be about. Journalists are the same everywhere, so this is hardly a specificity of the English language. Unfortunately, the internet is full of various preposition worksheets courses or English quizzes. Still, the actual use is far different from the academic one. I advise you to learn to read between the lines - it's relevant for every language.

Edited by martiscore
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