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...?" – Weather Vane Aug 8 '19 at 16:38
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    can is shorter than could, less complicated – Xanne Aug 8 '19 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? – Trilarion Aug 8 '19 at 20:25
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    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 Aug 8 '19 at 21:41
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    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. – John Lawler Aug 8 '19 at 22:30

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? – Trilarion Aug 9 '19 at 7:58

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