In news papers we see headings like this

"India signs a pact with Russia"

"Sachin hits another century"

"Obama wins presidential election"

These are completed events, aren't they? Then, why are these sentences not mentioned in past tense?

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    I slightly broadened your title, since this actually relates to most, if not all, headlines.
    – user10893
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 7:19
  • Why do newspaper headlines use strange syntax rules? also asks about “past events written in present” but that question got short shrift in answers. Also see question #8732 Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 15:36
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    There has been a fashionable academic trend in the last decade to describe the past using the present tense, in the way newspapers have done for a long time. I think the purpose is to engage the reader as if they are witnessing history as it happens, more like reading a fiction book than nonfiction. Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 18:57

5 Answers 5


The headline of a newspaper was originally intended to attract the readers attention (and encourage them to purchase the paper). Framing the bold headline statements in the present tense gives them a sense of urgency and excitement that is (assumed to be) more enticing to the reader.

As other answers have said, the essence of news coverage is its immediacy. The history books will report that "the Taliban established a faux-embassy in Qatar in the middle of 2013". In the newspapers it is "Taliban open mid-east office".

If you watched a delayed coverage of a test match, would you expect the commentators to refer to each event in the past tense? Newspapers operate in the same fashion.

Even though the events are technically in the past (as is the instant when I just typed "in the past") news coverage of them is presented as though it was occurring at the same time.


This is a specific use of the verb tense known as the historical present, which means using a present tense verb to describe an event that has already happened. The excellent language podcast Lexicon Valley devoted an episode to it. They primarily discussed its use in fiction and descriptions of more remote events but their insights apply here as well: when writing a narrative of a past event, the use of the present tense gives the reader a more immediate sense of involvement. Newspaper headlines are narrative hooks to draw the reader into a story, not purely descriptive text.


News is, almost by definition, what's happening now.

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    I cannot agree with this. Examples I gave are obvious that they are past events. Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 7:39
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    @SaiKrishna: If you ignore my answer, yes, you get your question again. Instead, pay attention to my answer. These are headlines. Headlines present news. News is, by definition, what is happening now. Thus, they are in the present tense. The headlines present news. What happened last week is not news. What is happening is news. Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 7:41
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    Queen Anne was dead. Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 8:21
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    More likely Sai expected "Queen Anne died" instead of "Queen Anne dies"
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 8:34
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    now (nou) adv. 1. At the present time: goods now on sale; the now aging dictator. 2. At once; immediately: Stop now. 3. In the immediate past; very recently: left the room just now. (+ other senses) If we employ this third sense given by the AHD and amend the above to 'News is, almost by definition, what's happening / has happened just now', it all makes sense. People can argue over when 'very recently' started if they wish to do so. It keeps changing anyway. Fortiter's answer above is eloquent and a fine explanation. Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 8:49

It is for mere attraction only.

Suppose you appear for an exam and the results are published a month later. The result says that You pass with distinction and not You passed with distinction. Actually the case is you passed a month ago, nevertheless you would like to hear it in present tense.


AFAIK, it is a lame affectation that has been adopted as a narrative device to draw in the reader. Every newspaper, print and online, seems to have adopted it.

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