## Grammar of titles - wh-clause vs. question

14

3

I found an article with the title:

Why We Listen to Music

This seem somewhat incomplete to me, because "why we do something" is usually used as the subject of dependent clause like "This is why we listen to music."

I found another article titled as follows:

Why Do We Listen to Music?

The second one sounds fine for me. My questions are these:

1. Is "Why We Listen to Music" grammatically correct?

2. What's the difference between "Why We Listen to Music" and "Why Do We Listen to Music"?

26

Why we listen to music is a noun phrase.

Why do we listen to music? is a well-formed question.

Either could work as the title of an article, say, or a blog post. Titles are not required to be well-formed sentences, but they can be.

The Cat in the Hat

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I Saw What You Did

Would only clarify that "Why we listen to music" is not a grammatically correct sentence: it's only a fragment/phrase. As a phrase, it's completely okay and can be thrown into other full sentences, e.g., "Why we listen to music is a very complex topic," or "The innate lure of rhythm is why we listen to music." – urnonav – 2018-05-10T17:34:30.073

4I also tend to read it as "[This is] why we listen to music". The reader picks up the page, says, "what is this?" and then reads the first line as in answer to the question. – Darren Ringer – 2018-05-10T19:16:31.030

@DarrenRinger: Sure, but that requires a surrounding context that is not given. "About five" can be a valid answer to e.g. "How many people were at the party?", but it doesn't really count as a valid sentence by itself. – Flater – 2018-05-11T14:30:36.537

15

Why We Listen To Music=The Reason We Listen to Music

versus:

Why Do We Listen To Music? = A question.

Titles of written texts (books or articles) can be quite complicated. In the examples above, one is in question form, a typical magazine style, and one is in statement form, which also happens to be a full sentence.

That does not mean that all magazine-type titles are always full sentences. On the contrary, they often are not. They can be a dizzying combination of nouns, verbs and adjectives, and most often are not a full sentence. However, they are grammatical.

For example: World War II: Survivors' Stories

Titles (unless some unusual style is used, as can in found in some contemporary publication) use upper case letters for main words and lower case letters for words like of, in or a/an.

This right here basically should answer the question... it isn't so much about being grammatical, but how a slight change of arrangement also changes the meaning of the piece. – ggiaquin16 – 2018-05-10T20:44:10.690

3Re: "one is in statement form, which also happens to be a full sentence": That's not correct. – ruakh – 2018-05-11T00:01:31.103

Yes, "Why We Listen to Music"= The Reason We Listen to Music, why=reason, therefore, we have a full sentence. – Lambie – 2018-05-11T20:48:20.183

11

I don't think the answers sufficiently cover "What's the difference between "Why We Listen to Music" and "Why Do We Listen to Music"?". It's possible that it should simply be a separate question, but I'll explain the difference here anyway.

The title of an article, in broad strokes, is an indication of what the content of that article is. An article titled "Why We Listen to Music" implicitly claims that the primary cause for humans listening to music is explained within the article. If the article does not come to a confident conclusion about the primary reason or reasons for Listening to Music, then the title is deceptive.

On the other hand, an article titled "Why Do We Listen to Music?" only indicates that some work was done to try to find out the answer. Such an article could list competing theories or original research even if the results aren't conclusive. The title would only be inaccurate if reasons for listening to music are not the focus of the article at all. Generally speaking, any article which could reasonably have the previous title would work with this one as well.

The choice between them is otherwise mostly stylistic, and there are any number of other ways the same information could be written.

0

"Why we listen to music" is the title of a piece of writing implying that it will tell you why we listen to music. As a title I don't think it has to be "grammatically correct" any more than a person's name has to be.

"Why do we listen to music?" is simply asking the question with no implied promise to answer it.

Quite correct about the first matter. Many questions are posted on Stack Exchange from non-English-speakers in this form, which confuses native speakers because it purports to explain why something happens, not question or ask for an explanation why something happens. Interestingly, it's often the case that simply appending a question mark to the form without do will turn the assertion into a question as desired. – Magoo – 2018-05-11T02:28:17.827

Titles are grammatically correct, whether or not they are shortened forms of sentences or just phrases. You wouldn't see: Runs Pedestrian and Flees Scene. And people's names have nothing to do with grammar per se. You wouldn't see something like: Why Music Listen? – Lambie – 2018-05-11T12:57:48.583

@Lambie True, but "War" is an acceptable title, as is "Blue", or "Whither the vine?". There are rules, but they're not quite the same as the rules for normal prose. – Nagora – 2018-05-15T20:03:33.663

-1

The short answer to your question is NO titles are not grammatical they are proper nouns.
http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/propernoun.htm

Recognize a proper noun when you see one.

Nouns name people, places, and things. Every noun can further be classified as common or proper. A proper noun has two distinctive features: 1) it will name a specific [usually a one-of-a-kind] item, and 2) it will begin with a capital letter no matter where it occurs in a sentence.

The author could have just as well called his article "Fred Smith"

When I answered this question the title was "Are English titles grammatical?", and went on to discuss the grammar of an example title. The focus of the question has changed since I answered.

EDIT: More research (I honestly expect this only interests me now but...)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proper_noun

Current linguistics makes a distinction between proper nouns and proper names; but this distinction is not universally observed

By this strict distinction, because the term noun is used for a class of single words (tree, beauty), only single-word proper names are proper nouns: Peter and Africa are both proper names and proper nouns; but Peter the Great and South Africa, while they are proper names, are not proper nouns.

So some people make a distinction between proper nouns and names, but not everyone does. The name of an article is it's name, so some linguists call these proper names, others call them proper nouns.

2Titles are most definitely not "proper nouns", sorry. Most titles are shortened sentences and some are full sentences as in what the OP posted. – Lambie – 2018-05-10T12:43:54.253

1@Lambie the fact they are often full sentences is just co-incidence, it is not a requirement. Is"war and peace" a sentence? is "Ulysses" a grammatically correct sentence? "The Divine Comedy"?, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"? do I need to continue? – WendyG – 2018-05-10T13:02:29.327

1The OP was asking about the titles of written articles (like magazines); you are citing book titles that happen to be a proper name. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a proper name. Huckleberry and Finn are proper nouns in the title. – Lambie – 2018-05-10T13:05:40.370

The OP wasn't clear at all about what they meant. – Lucian Sava – 2018-05-10T13:51:54.870

1"Fred Smith" would be a terrible title for an article about why we listen to music. While I agree that titles are not necessarily grammatical sentences, I think the rest of your answer dodges the question and doesn't provide any useful information. – J.R. – 2018-05-10T14:27:03.200

2It's true that they might not always be grammatical sentences, but grammar also applies to smaller units than whole sentences. A phrase, for example, can be perfectly grammatical without being a complete sentence, as long as it fits the patterns for how English phrases are put together. Why we listen to music is not a sentence, but that doesn't make it ungrammatical. – snailplane – 2018-05-10T16:47:24.023

When analyzing an entire sentence in which a title is mentioned, it probably makes sense to think of it as a proper noun or something similar. But titles still have their own sort of internal grammar. (You can tell that they do, because some titles violate it and sound slightly off as a result: "Not Fade Away", Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Sometimes a Great Notion...) – Micah – 2018-05-11T19:05:54.570

2

When we refer to an article, book, song, or any other named creation, its title is a proper noun. But the title itself may be a sentence ("Diamonds are a girl's best friend"), a clause ("The Magic Flute"), a word ("Money"), or even a non-word, and of course it can itself be a proper noun ("Anna Karenina").

– laugh salutes Monica C – 2018-05-11T20:12:09.857