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I've noticed that more and more headlines of articles and ads (excluding those in more traditional online media) are of the structure interrogative-subject-verb instead of interrogative-verb-subject.

As an example, this is an ad I recently saw:

An ad saying "Why Mobile Vikings is the best Telco?"

  • Why Mobile Vikings has been the hottest internet provider in town since launching last year? Here are the 5 ...

These types of headlines are also seen with a deleted auxiliary verb – so this

  • Why did the chicken cross the road?

becomes

  • Why the chicken crossed the road?

I feel like this is an evolution of clickbait headlines like "Why the chicken crossed the road", where the authors decided they needed an interrogation mark because the sentence starts with an interrogation word.

I can understand someone making this mistake, but that doesn't explain its prevalence.

Does anyone know where this irritating sentence structure comes from and what explains its increasing use?

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    Quite possibly clickbait written by non-native speakers who have different ways of forming questions. If you can find some more examples of this, it might be possible to judge the origin countries, and maybe work out their native languages.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 9:18
  • Because do-support is beginning to fail; it's only a device to get an auxiliary verb up front when there isn't one to start with. If the auxiliary is no longer felt to be necessary there, neither will do-support. Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 15:52
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    It's to put the important keywords as close to the start of the title as possible. Generally people don't intentionally read all of the ads on the page. You have to grab their attention as their eye scans past. It's easier to do this if important words aren't lost in the middle of titles. Also that same text may appear in different formats with varying degrees of truncation—which also makes front-loading helpful.
    – Sean
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 19:03

3 Answers 3

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Does anyone know where this irritating sentence structure comes from and what explains its increasing use?

As another answer indicates, an interrogative sentence such as those you highlight is not necessarily ungrammatical per se. Consider this:

Alice: Tell me why.

Bob: Why the chicken crossed the road?

There, Bob is asking for clarification, as in "Do you mean why the chicken crossed the road?". He is not asking the direct question "Why did the chicken cross the road?". If Bob did mean to ask the direct question then his wording would be incorrect for that purpose.

As for why incorrect usage along those lines seems to be on the rise, I frequently see it on various Stack Exchange sites, where it seems almost always to be part of a larger pattern of non-idiomatic English. I usually take the author to be a non-native speaker.

That may not explain all of the increase of this (mis)usage that you perceive, but I imagine that it does explain some of it. In ads, for example, I find it easy to believe that more copy is being written or translated by people whose English is less perfect, and who are edited / supervised by people who are less capable of or less motivated to catch and fix grammar errors. These are not necessarily non-native speakers, of course, but I do think an increase in non-native speakers publishing English prose of various kinds is a significant source.

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I'd say that the first question is too open to guessed answers.

The second question does possibly meet site requirements, but answers to this will also contain opinion. Mine is that using question marks after tensed Wh-clauses (essentially complements) is a common form of deletion, acceptable in informal situations, but having default expansions. Thus

  • 'Why the chicken crossed the road?' ↔ 'Is this why the chicken crossed the road?'

(not ↔ 'Why did the chicken cross the road?')

Notice that you are invited to evaluate a possible answer (sometimes several factors), not provide one. I'd say it's unsuitable in the given ad.

This type of deletion is common in say headlines and captions, being economical as regards space, and punchy.

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    +1 on "common form of deletion". I would understand the headline Why the chicken crossed the road? to be an abbreviated form of the question "You wanna know why the chicken crossed the road?" It's obliquely addressing the reader with a question about the question or about answers to the question.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 12:06
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Why is the structure interrogative-subject-verb (including question mark) grammatically being used so often?

Surely the answer has to be "There are a lot of people in the world - including native speakers - who are unaware of punctuation conventions."

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  • It could equally well be that many don't appreciate the difference between interrogative structures and embedded questions. In fact, I'd say this is more likely. After all, substituting a full stop for the question mark still leaves a non-sentence. // POB. Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 11:03

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