Is the following sentence acceptable in semi-formal or formal written speech?

How to adopt a lifestyle that consumes less?

Or ought it be rephrased? For example, to the following?

How do I adopt a lifestyle that consumes less?


  • Is it "written speech"? Or something with "in writing"? – Peter Mortensen Jun 30 '11 at 14:40

The context of this sentence is a headline or title, which follow different rules to normal English, and it works perfectly well for that.

You shouldn't use that sentence in regular English, formally or informally; the rephrasing you suggest would be a perfectly acceptable alternative.

Here's an interesting dissertation on the grammar of headlines showing some of the differences.

  • Interestingly, question titles on Stack Exchange sites seem to occupy a middle ground between questions and headlines; "how to do x?" is common, but not as common as a question format like @Peter's rephrased version. – aedia λ Jun 30 '11 at 16:00

I would say that

How to adopt a lifestyle that consumes less.

could be used as a title or heading in a written article or question post. This phrase is only a fragment, because it does not have an independent clause containing a subject-verb relationship. Because it is a fragment, it should be punctuated as a statement (if at all). If someone is actually asking the question, then use

How do I adopt a lifestyle that consumes less?

or similar, which is phrased as a question and contains a subject and appropriately conjugated verb.

  • 2
    or "Tell me how to..."; "The question is: how to..." – Unreason Jun 30 '11 at 14:47
  • @Unreason, yes, those are good suggestions. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 30 '11 at 14:48
  • thanks, can you explain (for my benefit) exactly why is the first form a fragment (you can expand it in the answer)? No subject? – Unreason Jun 30 '11 at 14:50
  • @Unreason You're right, I should have included that explanation. I'm not sure if what I wrote is clear, though. What do you think? – Kit Z. Fox Jun 30 '11 at 14:58
  • @Unreason: the "How to" phrase does not contain a finite verb ("to adopt" is infinitive) therefore it is not a traditional sentence but a fragment. – Colin Fine Jun 30 '11 at 16:17

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