Just some examples from the media:

The billions of trees aren't yet planted, the modular homes aren't yet built, the Democrats had not yet a chance to do something on North Korea, Trump's future approval rating changes are unknown and he didn't do it yet. The situations all seem rather hypothetical.

I thought that hypothetical situations call for the subjunctive and using "could" feels better to me in many of the examples above. The question When do I use “can” or “could”? seems to suggest that both, "could" and "can" (both expressing ability or possibility) could be used interchangeably here. However, "can" seems to be used almost exclusively in headlines (less so in article bodies).

Why is that so?

  • Perhaps because "could" is also a past tense of "can", and the press loves talking "in the moment". Think too about the closing narrative of a soap about the next episode: "Can XXX...?" is far better than "Could XXX...?" Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 16:38
  • 4
    can is shorter than could, less complicated
    – Xanne
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 19:20
  • @Xanne It is shorter but is it also regarded good style? I thought that "could" should be used in rather hypothetical situations. Would using "can" instead not be somewhat misleading, implying a certainty that is not really there? Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 20:25
  • 3
    Don't expect to find good style in the media. They have a style of their own that does not follow the same rules as the rest of us.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 21:41
  • 6
    Definitely don't expect anything you would call "good style" in headlines. Headlines are only occasionally English sentences, and rarely good style of any sort. Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 22:30

1 Answer 1


As always what the media does is sell, not stop, night and day. The best way to arrest the attention of anyone is to ask a question. It invites engagement. Am I wrong?

To this end the questions or statements must be in the immediate present case. Could invites contemplation and not urgent action. They could. They might. Maybe the should consider it.

In addition the habit of headline writers is to choose the words with the fewest letters to make room for more or else a larger font.

  • "not stop" -> non-stop? Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 7:58
  • Choosing the smallest words for headlines is what I immediately thought of.
    – Ron Kyle
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 21:55

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