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"Actor Peter Fonda found dead body inside car" - that's the title that Yahoo first chose for its news article confusing so many people Is this kind of title correct? (They just changed to "Police: actor Peter Fonda finds dead body in car").

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It may be correct, but I admit it's pretty darn confusing/ambiguous! –  Noldorin Jan 13 '11 at 20:28

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

When writing for press, I was always taught to use present tense in titles to avoid this type of confusion. I would consider this an error on the writer's part, but Yahoo tends to take its articles from bloggers and other submitted materials, so you can't always rely on it to be in proper form.

I think this sounds a little bit clearer: "Actor Peter Fonda Finds Dead Body Inside Car"

OR, if it was his body, then the past tense would be appropriate, because it doesn't say who found it:

"Body of Actor Peter Fonda Found Dead Inside Car"

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I see, thank you!!! –  brilliant Jan 13 '11 at 20:18
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It would be a little strange to read, "Body of Actor Peter Fonda Found Dead/Alive Inside Car" :-) –  Tragicomic Jan 13 '11 at 20:31
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@Tragicomic Unless Peter Fonda was the name of Schrödinger's cat: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schrödinger's_cat –  Jay Jan 13 '11 at 21:06

The headline makes sense.

(Actor Peter Fonda) found [a] (dead body inside [a] car)

However it appears to be a garden-path sentence (or Crash Blossom). This is because you first read it as

(Actor Peter Fonda found dead) ...

and it isn't until you get to "body" that you have to go back and re-analyze the sentence.

If it had a comma, then the meaning would change:

Actor Peter Fonda found dead, body inside car

In that case Peter Fonda is dead and his body is inside a car. I'd say that without that comma you can't infer that meaning.

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I would omit the "dead" as unnecessary because in news reporting of this kind, found bodies are always in the formerly alive condition. -- retired copy editor and headline writer.

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Phrases like this are not unheard of; my favorite was something about the old Norwegian history professor. Is the prof old or young? What does he teach? Is he Norwegian? Etc.

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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 18 '11 at 13:42

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