I had googled the differences between ELU (English Language & Usage) and ELL (English Language Learners). They mostly say that: "You ask advanced questions on ELU, and basic questions on ELL". But I don't get how basic is basic or how advanced is advanced.

So I have a question on proverbs. But it's not an english proverb/idiom, rather a proverb or saying from another language that I wanted to know its equivalent in english. For example, what's the english counterpart to the Japanese saying, "Present salt to your enemy"?

Where should I ask that kind of question? Is it ELU or ELL?

  • That specific question has already been asked on EL&U. Please look in the main site search box. This should tell you that this type of question, with context and research, is very welcomed on EL&U; however, new questions which are near duplicates of an older one will get closed (but not deleted).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 29, 2017 at 6:43
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    Heck, I did it for you english.stackexchange.com/questions/117493/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 29, 2017 at 6:44
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    That's just an example. That's not the question that I want to ask. So it's right to ask that kind of question on ELU rather than ELL?
    – user242745
    Jun 29, 2017 at 6:48
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    Look at the question written by Yoichi, how it is written and presented, if you can provide even half that amount of detail then ask away on EL&U.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 29, 2017 at 6:51
  • Ok, then. I thought it wasn't the kind of question that native speakers like to answer.
    – user242745
    Jun 29, 2017 at 6:54
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    @IvanDi - ELU user base is very heterogeneous and comprises both native speakers of some English dialect (AmE, BrE, AusE etc.) and non-native speakers.
    – user66974
    Jun 29, 2017 at 12:52
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    @IvanDi "How do I translate this interesting proverb from language X into idiomatic English" are some of the most popular and highly-upvoted questions on ELU. I'd recommend asking them here. The main distinction between "basic" and "advanced" is not "could a native speaker answer this" but "would this question even occur to a native speaker to ask?". For most questions by ELLs, the answer to that question is "no", because English speakers intuitively know most things which confuse or confound learners. Queries which would occur to native speakers will by definition be interesting to them.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 29, 2017 at 14:58
  • Oh, okay. Now I get it. @Josh had answered my question.
    – user242745
    Jun 30, 2017 at 1:45

2 Answers 2


The real distinction between ELU and ELL isn't really the questions (easy vs hard) - it's the type of answers you're looking for.

The respective tours say that ELL is for "speakers of other languages learning English" while ELU is for "linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts". In theory, you join the community that better describes you. In practice, there are people who have joined both communities and participate actively in both.

ELL includes questions about the mechanics of the language, asking questions like which tense one should use in a particular example. Both questions and answers might include linguistics terms such as object complement to more precisely express what they're trying to say. It's not a matter of ELL being 'simple'. I'd consider myself an English enthusiast. It's my primary language, one I picked up as a baby, but my formal training in the technical matters of the language extends only to what some might call 'grade school'. When discussing parts of speech, for example, I tend to find it easier to say whether a phrase is idiomatic, or what the phrase means, than to tell you whether it is an object complement and, if so, what kind it is (I'm getting a little better after spending time on both sites, though).

ELU is not specifically about the mechanics of the language. Ideally, we'd assume that the community is well-versed at parsing sentences and has a basic grasp of common idioms. We'll look at the finer nuances behind similar terms, pick the 'best word' for an occasion, or more generally ask the 'why' questions, more so than the 'how' or even the 'what' questions. It's not that the 'how' or 'what' questions are necessarily off-topic - the site explicitly includes linguists, after all, but if you are already familiar with the language and wish to probe further, you'd probably ask your question on ELU instead of ELL.

Having said that, I have found some of the most interesting questions on ELU coming from those who aren't native English speakers (but don't call this group 'natives' as others have done - to native speakers, 'natives' tends to refer to totally different groups of people than what was probably intended). Most of us at ELU welcome people from all stages of language mastery, the most important caveat probably being that we need to be able to converse intelligibly with one another fairly easily in English.

In relation to your 'salt' example: as noted in comments to the question, we at ELU enjoy questions about English versions of foreign-language idioms. They are welcome, so long as we have sufficient background to understand (in English) what the idiom is trying to express. The question should not assume that any potential answerer knows anything about the non-English language.

  • What about this question and this one? Both of them are word request questions.
    – user242745
    Jul 5, 2017 at 13:21
  • @IvanDi The ELL question would likely get a poor reception at ELU - but if so, it would be due to the lack of context and an example that doesn't help clarify what's being sought. (E.g. I want a word to say blah; unhelpful example: "A word that says blah is ___".) The example should illustrate whether a verb, noun, etc is best used, as well as the sense or nuance it should convey. The ELU question's example provides some of that information.
    – Lawrence
    Jul 5, 2017 at 13:29
  • @IvanDi Have a look at this post on ELL - it's useful for ELU as well: Please, everyone… details. Please.
    – Lawrence
    Jul 5, 2017 at 13:29
  • @IvanDi Requests for words, phrases, idioms etc are on-topic on both sites. The sites have a fuzzy boundary, so some questions would be fine either way. ELU launched ELL to cater to the needs of language learners, and unless I'm mistaken, to retain ELU to cater to people fluent in English. Perhaps as a result of this, ELU has tended to be more careful about the quality of its posts, while ELL has been more forgiving. In any case, if it's unclear which site is better, it's likely that either would be fine - provided you present your research, provide context, and ask for something answerable.
    – Lawrence
    Jul 5, 2017 at 13:39
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    Excellent answer that covers all angles! I upvote. Jul 5, 2017 at 14:15

I can only add this to the comprehensive and excellent answer already provided by Lawrence: Whether the question is being asked at ELU or ELL, you should first read the site guidelines and be sure that the question is 'on-topic' at the chosen site.

HOWEVER, there is a loophole here that almost every question that is on-topic at ELL is also on-topic at ELU. So

when in doubt, you can post the question at ELU where it will most likely remain and get answered; if there is a good reason to migrate it to ELL, then senior members will vote to migrate it and it will get answered at ELL. If the question is marked off-topic, the reason will be specified and somebody will usually guide you how to modify it to bring it on-topic.

Please note that my personal advice would be for a member to ask beginners' type of Learners' questions about basic aspects of syntax and grammar at ELL (which site was specifically created for learners to ask such questions) and more complex questions dealing with etymology, word-choice, contemporary usage and linguistics (such as the question about the Japanese proverb) are more suitable to be asked at ELU.

  • 2
    No, no please. That's not a "loophole", that's an error-correcting function, and marketing it makes it an exploit. Google already directs most people to ask most English questions here on ELU because of accidental SEO. That creates a big mess for us to clean up, as you see from the review queues. It also causes a lot of friction and frustration between users. Please, no. If one site has to be the default for non-native speakers, it's ELL (in both theory and practice, i.e. the Qs we are flooded with weekly). But that's not totally fair either; all we can say is it's not ELU.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 5, 2017 at 16:38
  • @Dan Bron this answer is intentionally provocative to highlight the glaring mistake in keeping the same criteria for what's on-topic at both ELU and ELL. My 2 attempts to discuss this discrepancy meaningfully in meta were frustrated by circular arguments from senior users who should know better. Why is it impossible to change the criteria for what is off-topic at ELU and migrate all learners' questions to ELL? Would you not agree that OP's question about the Japanese proverb is more appropriate for the 'linguists & serious language enthusiasts' of ELU? So I will remove this answer later! Jul 5, 2017 at 16:55
  • I understand your frustration. I share it. Many of the regular users here wish SE would somehow set up ELL as the "standard, default" English site, and reserve ELU as the "advanced English" site, harder to find, analogous to "Math Overflow". In particular attention should be paid to SEO such that most searchers land on ELL first. But there are both political and technical challenges to that utopian vision; the political ones, as always, being sticker. This is a battle which has been raging since ELU was established, and one the the prime motivators for setting up ELL.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 5, 2017 at 17:00
  • @Dan Bron very true. I was amazed to note that even after ELL became a full-fledged site, 99% of ELL questions remain on-topic at ELU and nobody defines the other 1% -- please dont think I am being unkind, because I was the first to call your 'Swedish axe answer' brilliant: but if, as you say, _ (...) one site has to be the default for non-native speakers, it's ELL (in both theory and practice, i.e. the Qs we are flooded with weekly). But that's not totally fair either; all we can say is it's not ELU _ then that Q would've been asked (and answered by you) at ELL! I'll remove my answer later. Jul 5, 2017 at 17:11
  • 99% of ELL questions are NOT on topic on ELU that's an exaggeration. Some questions on ELL are better suited for ELU but their hardcore, and most loyal members prefer asking on ELL and there's nothing wrong with that.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 6, 2017 at 5:23
  • @Mari-louA I said "99% of ELL questions remain on-topic at ELU"(please see my earlier comment) -- I am specifically referring to the definition of what is off-topic. You'd agree that if a new member who happens to be an English learner (unaware of the difference between ELU and ELL) posted at ELU a beginner's type question 'more suitable' for ELL, then it would be virtually impossible to get it migrated to ELL simply because a well-worded question that follows on-topic guidelines would be on-topic at both sites (and a poorly constructed question would be found off-topic at both ELU & ELL.) Jul 6, 2017 at 7:09
  • @Mari-LouA I could make that 95% for accuracy or even 89% for better reading, though 99% gives a better rhetorical effect, but please look at my point: the definitions of on-topic are currently too similar at ELU and ELL. Jul 6, 2017 at 7:13
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    No. 99% is a falsehood, if that figure were true we would barely close any questions. The number of off-topic questions suitable to be migrated to ELL is slim, because the majority of newcomer questions are either off topic or extremely low quality to begin with. I believe that EL&U closes something like 50% of questions, I will now look for these statistics, to be sure.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 6, 2017 at 7:22
  • Out of 85,000 questions asked on ELU, 22,149 questions are currently closed, this fails to take into account the number of questions deleted by users, deleted by hi-rep users who have earned that "privilege" users and by the system itself. 99% of ELL questions that are on-topic also on ELU has to be supported. You can't willy-nilly cite impressive numbers like a demagogue. One Donald Trump is enough :P The percentage may be high but it is nowhere that high.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 6, 2017 at 7:28
  • @Mari-lou A this isn't about percentage of questions closed -- I can now see I left room for ambiguity so please let me clarify that I never meant to say 99% of all ELL questions ever asked are on-topic at ELU: I specifically meant that 99% of on-topic questions at ELL are also on-topic at ELU! -- and I am willing to make that 89% or even 85% but that is still way too similar a definition of on-topic for 2 distinct websites. Jul 6, 2017 at 7:34
  • I understood, those figures are still an exaggeration. 85% of ELL questions would be accepted as being on-topic on ELU, in other words you're saying they would not be closed for lack of research, for being POB or for being too broad. It is still an exaggeration, and not true. The two sites have questions that do overlap, but that is nowhere close to 90 or 85%. But seeing as you chucked that percentage in the comments, and not in your answer, I'll let it go.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 6, 2017 at 7:41
  • @Mari-lou A am I to understand that the guidelines for 'off-topic' are more liberal at ELL but many questions are still off-topic at both sites and therefore unsuitable for migration? Now I get it -- Last point: what prevents Stack Exchange from devising almost mutually exclusive off-topic guidelines for ELU and ELL, virtually eliminating overlap and automatically/ semi-automatically diverting beginners' ELL-type questions (on-topic at ELL) from ELU to ELL? Jul 6, 2017 at 8:04
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    The whole idea of creating ELL was to cater for those questions that were too basic (read: too boring = too simple) by EL&U standards. If a user wants to know if their sentence sounds natural in English, they should visit ELL. But they should still perform a perfunctory research on the Internet. The truth of the matter is the majority of ELL questions of this type are woefully under-researched, even by users who have been active on the site for over a year. They churn out the same requests time and time again, on EL&U their Qs wouldn't last ten minutes. And I'm glad about that.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 6, 2017 at 8:18
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    The ELL community is friendlier and much more tolerant than EL&U and long may it stay that way. If NNS and users visit ELL and see for themselves the more relaxed attitude that reigns over there, supported by a strong group of NSs who know what they are talking about, then users will remain and become members of that community. The help center in ELL states what is on-topic and what is off-topic.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 6, 2017 at 8:23
  • @Mari-lou A thanks for the explanation. I recently joined ELL and will be more active there. All that discussion seems to come to the conclusion that there is no way to prevent a large number of off-topic questions from being asked daily at ELU; no way to re-define more narrowly the site guidelines for on-topic questions and also no way to divert ELL type of questions routinely to ELL, except in a few cases; so the only option is to close the majority of those questions right here at EL& U. Jul 6, 2017 at 8:29

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