Please don't direct me to the Help Page. I need guidance that the Help Page doesn't give.

I am a native English speaker, and know only basic grammar. I know when something sounds right, I know when it sounds wrong, and I know when it sounds right even though technically it is wrong. I cannot explain grammar beyond basic grammar.

I am discouraged by some of the grammar questions asked here, and I mean discouraged by the good questions, because they seem like Greek to me. It seems like learning advanced grammar is like studying anatomy, physiology and biochemistry in order to learn how to walk.

I don't know enough grammar to write a decent grammar question. And I suspect the Catch 22 is that if I did study grammar, I would know how to research the answers to almost anything that occurred to me. Or would it take years of study to get to that point?

As for writing questions about words or idioms or sayings, almost everything along those lines can be found in a quick Google search. Thus, I mostly answer (16 Questions vs 392 Answers), and answering is becoming less satisfying. When I can get 89 net upvotes for seethe (Word to describe to sit in quiet anger), it is too easy. I'm not complaining about 89 upvotes -- far from it -- but it is excessive and excess cloys. (But never hesitate to upvote me, please! :))

So, the question: what can I do, short of going to grad school, to write good questions and contribute to the question side of ELU?

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    I am not sure what this post is about. You are complaining about poor questions asked by ESL students and about too many upvotes for an answer that came easy to your mind. Basically any questions about the English language that shows research and personal effort to find an answer is a "good one". Wether it is an interesting one is a different matter. – user66974 Jul 30 '17 at 15:55
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    I'll try to make it clearer this evening. You completely misinterpreted the Q, for which I take the blame, totally. I am asking how I, a native English speaker can write good questions, even though I don't know the technicalities of grammar. I am not complaining about anything. Some ESL users write questions about English grammar which are Greek to me; I admire them. (Some write bad questions, this Q is not about that at all.) I explicitly said that I am not complaining about 89 upvotes, just that it seems excessive, and excess is cloying. Does this clarify at all? Feedback helps. – ab2 Jul 30 '17 at 16:17
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    I think the issue here is what you mean by "good". On topic questions are all 'good" by definition. They may be more or less elaborated and may attract users' attention according to the topic they refer to (grammar, orthography, pronounciation, meaning in context, etymology etc.). You have asked 16 questions so far, and at a quick glance they all appear "good" by the site standards. – user66974 Jul 30 '17 at 16:47
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    That's a good question! To me, the starting point is to stumble upon some point of interest that sparks your curiosity. Now, that is considerably harder to manufacture. Nevertheless, if something is of interest to you (and on-topic here), it's probably of interest to the wider EL&U community as well - regardless of how non-technically the question is phrased, so long as it conveys your intent. – Lawrence Jul 31 '17 at 5:19

Just be yourself. You're also keen to learn, which is great. Admit you don't know the terminology, that technical answers should be pared down so you don't need to be a linguist in order to understand, and if the question is interesting, it won't matter if grammar terms are thin on the ground. Eventually, you'll keep hearing the same terms used again and again and they will stick.

Include your research, or your gut feelings as a native speaker, show you have spent time thinking it through. Be cheerful. Be hopeful, but don't be upset if your question doesn't receive a standing ovation. It probably won't.

Here's but one example of a non-expert asking a grammar question.

What's wrong with "I'll open you the door"?

and here's another question asked by an EFL teacher but it is simple to understand, hopefully, you already know what an adjective, noun, verb, and infinitive phrase is.

Why does "I was happy to do my homework" work, but "I was tired to do my homework" doesn't?

Always a good idea to ask users to supply examples, and/or links in their answers.

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  • +1 Are you a native English speaker? And are you a teacher as well? The "tired to do homework" answer you gave is neat! :) +1 to that as well. – NVZ Jul 30 '17 at 19:17
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    "Not really" to both your questions. I am here to improve my English and master the more complex grammar. – Mari-Lou A Jul 30 '17 at 19:26
  • @Mari-LouA Er, but I thought the answers to both those questions was "yeah, pretty much"! – tchrist Jul 30 '17 at 20:48

(This grew too long for a comment, and I don’t wish to encourage comments over posts.)

The simple answer is to follow the lead of our most Socratic of askers. Look at the questions posed by the holders of that gold badge, and go thou and do likewise.

The OP notices that poor questions draw poor answers, and that both are highly upvoted. If you want to write a question that everybody answers and upvotes, that’s a very different thing from asking how to write well-written and well-researched questions covering a previously unexplored matter of English that contribute to our growing library of expert answers. Compare Yoichi Oichi’s questions with the single-word-gimmes, for example.

The one the OP drew attention to is a writing request. I personally believe that such questions should be closed and their copypasta answers deleted. They add nothing to our library of expert answers. As you observe, they can be trivially used for reputation mills, and there have been instances of fraud on the site related to this scam.

I am hardy alone in my opinion that these questions should be disallowed by revised site rules. We’ve talked about this since time immemorial. Constantly.

But nobody wants to pull the trigger on these requests (not questions, requests) for this or that “catchy, fun word that means X sprinkled with Y while gazing into the Z”. Supposedly they’re too “fun” to kill off.

Stack Overflow used to have joke questions and write-my-code-for-me questions. They were incredibly popular. It took serious effort and collective community will, but these terrible, pointless questions were finally given the kiss of everlasting death.

They’re offtopic gimme-the-codez demands, and nowhere else on the network are such questions tolerated. We should expect no less of ourselves regarding these write-my-sentence-for-me requests.

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    This doesn't answer the OP's question? Does it? – Mari-Lou A Jul 30 '17 at 17:02
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    Not sure OP is complaining about SWRs questions in their post. – user66974 Jul 30 '17 at 17:02
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    @Josh She's noticing that poor questions draw poor answers, and that both are highly upvoted. If you want to write a question that everybody answers and upvotes, that's a very different thing from asking how to write well-written and well-researched questions covering a previously unexplored matter of English that contribute to our growing library of expert answers. – tchrist Jul 30 '17 at 17:07
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    How do you know @ab2 is a "he"? :) – Mari-Lou A Jul 30 '17 at 17:08
  • The same is valid for the poor grammar question OP is complaining about. A poor question is poor because it is off-topic for one or more reasons as stated by the site rules. A SWRs question is not poor by definition. – user66974 Jul 30 '17 at 17:14
  • @Josh If for each well-written SWR you can find on the site, I can find a hundred poorly written ones, would that convince you that these are a problem? – tchrist Jul 30 '17 at 17:17
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    Poorly written SRWs questions don't make SWRs questions poor. It is a different issue. Any poorly written question (whatever the topic) is just a poorly written question. – user66974 Jul 30 '17 at 17:19
  • @Josh No matter what the ratio of bad to good ones should happen to be? If a question type draws several orders of magnitude more bad questions than good ones, it should be banned. This is what the Stack Exchange network has learned through experience. – tchrist Jul 30 '17 at 17:22
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    This just sounds like a rant in the guise of an answer. I don't see how any helpful advice (except "don't engage in behaviors I hate") can be drawn from this answer. – anongoodnurse Jul 30 '17 at 17:23
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    @anongoodnurse I suggested that one look at the questions posed by the holders of the Gold Socratic badge for models of good questions. Is that not an answer? – tchrist Jul 30 '17 at 17:23
  • No matter what the ratio of bad to good ones should happen to be. – user66974 Jul 30 '17 at 17:23
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    That's a comment, not an answer. – anongoodnurse Jul 30 '17 at 17:24
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    +1 for practical advice. (1) Although I can't read 1,600 questions, I can read two or three questions per Socratic Badge asker. (2) Mari-Lou has correctly figured out that I am not a "he". – ab2 Jul 30 '17 at 20:42
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    Ooh, not fair. You changed the "he" into a "she", that's called cheating from where I come from. :) :) [Imagine me peering from behind my reading spectacles and tutting while trying to suppress a grin.] I wonder if there is a single word that describes that facial response...? – Mari-Lou A Jul 31 '17 at 6:07
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    @Mari-LouA - A SWR for that facial expression? Don't dare ask!!!! – user66974 Jul 31 '17 at 9:11

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