The paper reports on a novel method for rapid determination of carbonyl in lignins by headspace gas chromatography (HS-GC). The method involves the quantitative carbonyl reduction for aldehydes in 2min at room temperature or for acetones in 30min at 80°C by sodium borohydride solution in a closed headspace sample vial. After the reaction, the solution was acidified by injecting sulfuric acid solution and the hydrogen released to the headspace was determined by GC using thermal-conductivity detector. The results showed that with the addition of SiO2 powder, the reduction reaction of carbonyl groups can be greatly facilitated. The method has a good measurement precision (RSD<7.74%) and accuracy (relative error <10% compared with a reference method) in the carbonyl quantification. It is suitable to be used for rapid determination of carbonyl content in lignin and related materials.