Skip main navigation

Creating bias

Watch as Luke Pearce illustrates how making different grammatical choices allows the writer to express different perspectives.

Watch the video above to see how the author manipulates grammar to express bias in headlines.

Tip: try speeding up or slowing down the videos by clicking the ‘1x’ symbol at the bottom right.

These headlines are an example of linguistic highlighting: the author is using language to highlight or obscure different aspects of the event. Each headline places a different emphasis on the actions and the agents: who is the hero and who is the villain, and what was done.

  1. Protestors destroy shops in night-long chaos
  2. Police overcome protestors in night-long battle
  3. Shops destroyed in night-long protest
  4. Protestors and police in night-long battle

Now, let’s discuss the language choices that achieve these different effects. Pick two sentences to compare and discuss:

  • Who or what is the ‘do-er’ or agent?
  • What grammatical structures affect this?
  • How are verbs and noun-phrases used?

The author is always making choices about how to manipulate language as a meaning-making resource. There preference will depend on their purpose, biases and contextual pressures.

Let’s now take a look at some possible interpretations of these headlines.

1.Protestors destroy shops in night-long chaos

Subject-Verb-Object- Adverbial in the active voice

The ‘Protestors’ are the agent performing the verb ‘destroy’. The ‘shops’ are the patient which undergoes the action.

2.Police overcome protestors in night-long battle

Subject-Verb-Object- Adverbial in the active voice

The ‘Police’ are now the agent, and the ‘protestors’ are the patient. The verb ‘overcome’ and the noun ‘battle’ paint the ‘police’ as the winners.

3.Shops destroyed in night-long protest

Object-Verb-Adverbial in the passive voice

The patient of the action ‘Shops’ is foregrounded, and the agent of the action is concealed. This kind of sentence avoids assigning blame, although the reader can fill the gaps in their mind.

4.Protestors and police in night-long battle


This headline is a fragment i.e. not a complete sentence since there is no verb! This presents both participants as equals and conceals the action that took place.

This article is from the free online

Teaching English Grammar in Context

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education