There is a recent question asking when the grammar of some language ancestral to English branched a certain feature. Since it garnered many votes, I suppose it was on-topic.

Which languages are on-topic? Can I ask about Proto-Germanic morphology?

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    This reminds me of an old comment of mine in the "What questions are on-topic and off-topic here?" thread: "The question 'Why is it X in German?' is obviously off-topic. The question 'Why is it Y in English, if it's X in German?' could already be a tad intriguing, though still not automagically on-topic. However, the question 'Why is it Y in English, while in most other Germanic languages it is X?' is perfectly fine IMHO, as long as the author doesn't produce the word 'most' out of thin air."
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 18:21
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    @RegDwight: Everyone who speaks the word "most" produces it out of thin air ... even non-native speakers like some we could mention. =P
    – Robusto
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 0:02
  • Yes you can ask - not sure anyone would be able to answer - but questions on ancestor languages that affect "English language and usage" seem fine.
    – mgb
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 15:32

1 Answer 1


That question is on-topic because it is asking about English; the fact it compares English with Dutch and German doesn't make the question off-topic because the OP is interested to know if a similar construct was present in English. Dutch and German have not been chosen as random examples: English, Dutch and German are three Germanic languages.

The question would have probably been off-topic is it was asking how to translate, for example, a sentence from Spanish to English.

  • The question regards a feature that English lacks, which many other Germanic languages lack. English could be replaced with Swedish, and the question would be the same, right? That's why I think it's a question about Germanic languages, and not about English.
    – user4727
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 17:20
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    @Tim See the answer I gave: "In Old English strong (or irregular) past participles were marked with a ge- prefix, as are most strong and weak past participles in Dutch and High German today." The ge- prefix was used in some cases to mark the past participle of a verb, and that prefix is still used in German and Dutch (see the example sentences reported by the OP). There are many questions about the differences between Old English (or Middle English) and English as spoken nowadays; those questions are on-topic on EL&U.
    – apaderno
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 17:31
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    @Tim If the OP is asking about English, then the question is about English. If I am asking about Italian, and what I ask could be asked about Spanish too, the question is still about Italian, even if Spanish has a grammar rule similar to the one I am asking for.
    – apaderno
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 17:34

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