Lektion 5 von 8
In Progress

A closer look (2): The grammar of newspaper articles

herr-stritt 27. November 2021

Which grammatical elements should we use?

When observing the grammar of our two articles, several aspects can be considered. Let’s take a look at example sentences from both the article „Pigs die as houses are blown down“ and „Woman finds a hat in a tree“.

First case study: Use the passive!

„A HAT has been found up a tree in Bilton.“

„The woollen head garment (…) was discovered on Tuesday (…).“

“ The owner now has until April 10 to reclaim the hat, after which it will be destroyed.“

You surely know this grammatical construction, right? It is the passive form.

The passive has got several advantages:

  • You do not need to show the agent (= who did something) if, for example, the agent is unclear or unimportant.
  • The passive shortens sentences. Consider „A woman discovered the woollen head garment“ versus „The woollen head garment was discovered“. 
  • The passive is considered stylistically more formal. (More on that later.)

However, you should not overly use the passive form. A text that only uses the passive becomes difficult and boring to read – and you risk to forget speaking about the „Who did it?“ aspect of a newspaper article.

For my students of German origin

If you don't remember the passive forms, the site ego4u is a great resource. Visit it by clicking the symbol above.

Second case study: Direct and indirect speech

„I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw it up there,“ she said. „I got it down with a stick and put it on a fence post.“

As mentioned in our previous chapter, direct speech can be a great way to introduce liveliness into our articles. Just place the direct speech elements in between quotation marks („“) and add who said it to the quote, preferably afterwards (as it puts the direct speech straight up to the front). As an alternative to „she“ or „he“, the family name is often used her („… saw it up there“, Bromance said.)

If you write longer articles, the use of indirect speech and or indirect questions can be a great way to bring variety to your writing. Compare the following example, where in one half of the sentence indirect speech is used, to the previous one, and take note of the effect:

Bromance said that she could hardly believe her eyes when she saw it up there. „I got it down with a stick and put it on a fence post.“

For my students of German origin

Do not forget the concept of the "backshift of tenses" when using reported speech. Again, ego4u is a great source of all questions around reported speech and reported questions - accessible through a click on the icon above.

Third case study: The usage of tenses

Take a look at the examples down below. Find out which tenses are used here, and why they are used.

  • A HAT has been found up a tree in Bilton.
  • The woollen head garment, which is red (…) was discovered on Tuesday by (…).
  • „(…) when I saw it up there,“ she said.
  • The owner now has until April 10 to reclaim the hat, after which it will be destroyed.

  • Hundreds of pigs died when (…).
  • Pig-farming has exploded over the last 10 years.
  • Authorities blamed the quality of structures (…) and are now planning building inspections.

Have you been able to decipher them all? Let’s check. In the box above you can find…

the past simple or past simple passive when speaking about dates in the past:

  • „(…) when I saw it up there,“ she said.
  • Hundreds of pigs died when (…).
  • Authorities blamed the quality of structures (…)
  • The woollen head garment, which is red (…) was discovered on Tuesday by (…).

the present perfect or present perfect passive, when the result is important:

  • Pig-farming has exploded over the last 10 years.
  • A HAT has been found up a tree in Bilton.

the present simple when speaking about the current situation or general aspects:

  • The owner now has until April 10 to reclaim the hat,

the present progressive with future meaning or the future simple (will-future) when speaking about upcoming events: 

  • after which it will be destroyed.
  •  and are now planning building inspections.

All in all, nothing special, right? We still use the tenses just as we’ve learnt them: Events in the past are clearly indicated with past tenses, ongoing action with the present, and an outlook into the future is given with future tenses. Just remember, that for general descriptions of things or processes we often use the present simple – just as in a summary of a fictional text.