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Issues with the tag have been discussed for years now:

  1. 12 April 2011
  2. 29 January 2015

It seems the general consensus is that the tag is problematic as best and blacklisting it was brought up in both posts. Yet today, it is still the most frequently used tag with already 62 used this week as of now (as compared to, say, , which only as 41). Not to mention, many of those questions are about basic English grammar (agreement, basic sentence structure, etc.) that any elementary textbook would cover and thus not acceptable by Stack Exchange standards.

It does not help that the EL&U Tour page and help center explicitly mention "Grammar" as something you should ask about either; most people with ELL questions have the term "grammar" on their minds so that green check mark is practically a magnet for ELL questions.

Thus, I think blacklisting , shifting "Grammar" to "Don't ask about..." in bother the Tour page and help center, and including links to ELL there* will at least reduce the number of unwelcome and inappropriate questions.

As for the potential downside of such actions, I really have not seen a case for the value adds. Its info page states that it is for "questions about morphology and syntax," but both and are existing tags so I do not see how is supposed to be helpful. Moreover, in all three example questions, adds nothing to what the other tags already cover. Of course, if anyone has an example in which is indispensable I would be very interested in seeing it.


*Just in case anyone gets upset over this (I have seen the ELL not being EL&U's trash can discussion), I am aware that placing more links to ELL will increase the number of poor questions (lack of basic research, help-me-do-this attitudes, etc.) there, but fact is, every community will have to deal with bad questions on their subject matter. And while questions like "Should I say 'John likes Mary' or 'John like Mary'" are bad in any Stack Exchange, they are clearly bad ELL questions and not bad EL&U questions. I'm not saying they should be moved to ELL if they do land here, but them landing here in the first place is not fair to the EL&U community.

  • 5
    It is fine to direct folks to ELL if it seems like their questions would be better served there. The "trash can" question you linked was not about directing people to ELL; it was about migrating low quality questions that should have been closed. – ColleenV parted ways May 23 '18 at 12:45
  • First, I included that note because I’m aware a lot of the questions with with the [grammar] tag are in fact not questions that “would be better served” at ELL but rather outright bad questions by any Stack Exchange community’s standards, which I explicitly stated, and I was worried that some people might interpret that as effectively migrating them preemptively. I also specifically mentioned that “I’m not saying they should be moved to ELL if they do land here.” Secondly, that really isn’t the main point of the post and if it’s detracting from the original purpose I’ll gladly remove it. – Zachary May 23 '18 at 19:15
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    It's misleading to suggest that we add "grammar" to the "Don't ask" list when morphology and syntax fall under that umbrella. Also, on this site I've mostly given up on searching for tags due to the inconstancies in how they're used (exception: [*-requests] tags are still very useful). In many cases it's pretty much impossible for the average person to think of a better tag than "grammar": what tag would Big Mess Constructions fall under? (Most people will not know the technical term for what they're asking about.) – Laurel May 23 '18 at 21:32
  • @Laurel That’s a fair point. Perhaps changing “Grammar” to “Morphology and Syntax” in the “Ask about” list and adding “Basic (Classroom?) grammar” in “Don’t ask”? They are different things so there must be a way to express it. As for your example of Big Mess Constructions, what exactly would be asked about it? An average person with no knowledge of determiners and noun phrases wouldn’t see this them as any more interesting than regular sentences and thus wouldn’t even be asking about it. In other words, they’d at least be able to use tags like “determiner”, “syntax”, and “noun-phrases”. – Zachary May 24 '18 at 7:17
  • Also of possible interest (from back in 2011): Should |grammaticality| be a synonym of |grammar|? – Sven Yargs May 24 '18 at 20:51
  • @SvenYargs I did consider including a link to that but decided against it since the main discussion there is the distinction between “grammar” and “grammaticality” and not whether the former is a problematic (or useful) tag. nohat’s answer did touch on the subject but it was considered to be addressed in the answer’s comments by the creation of an info page for “grammar”, which mainly just says “grammar ≠ grammaticality”. The two questions I linked to bring up the idea of blacklisting the “grammar” tag but no action seems to have been taken. – Zachary May 24 '18 at 21:56
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    Don't worry, we're not upset. We'd welcome the links to ELL :-) – snailcar May 25 '18 at 19:51
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The tag should be blacklisted.

It's not useful: a question about grammar will almost certainly be able to find more specific tags, and new users simply think that everything is covered by "grammar".

Normally, a tag must be eradicated before it can be blacklisted, but in this specific case I think there are simply too many questions to do that. One way to proceed is:

  • Ask SE staff to remove the tag from all questions with a database update; and blacklist the tag so it can't be recreated. This will probably not bump all the questions to the front page(s) of the site, but it will result in quite a number of untagged questions. That actually has some merit, because by using the question is effectively untagged.

If you like that course of action, please vote on this answer.

  • What do you propose for the questions that then become untagged? – Lawrence Feb 15 at 23:03
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    I would envisage that they be correctly tagged when they come to notice, either by someone who answers a question or by an editor when that answer bumps the question on the home page. There are too many to go through and systematically retag. – Andrew Leach Feb 16 at 8:16
5

Removing the "grammar" tag is unnecessary.

I don't strongly object to the blacklisting or removal of the tag, but I don't think it would be very helpful either, and I'm a bit concerned about the large number of questions that would have to be de-/retagged with the "remove by database update" plan.

I don't think that the existence of the tag has a meaningful effect on the quality of questions that are posted on this site. Many people don't read anything before posting here: consider that we get proofreading questions fairly regularly, even though the Help Center explicitly says that they are off-topic.

I agree with Laurel that people will likely just use the tag more in compensation for the lack of the tag.

I can see why the tag might seem pretty useless, but there is evidence that some members of the site do in fact treat it as a valuable piece of information. It has 274 watchers; I don't know how many people have it as an ignored tag, but I know at least some people have used that option also. So some people seem to have found it somewhat useful as a filter for questions that they are interested in or not interested in.

Stack Exchange tags are never going to be perfect, and this might be worse than most, but calling it "not useful" is a pretty strong claim. I'd prefer to see more justification for this claim aside from the argument that and could replace it, or that new users use a fairly broad definition of grammar.

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    We have had the grammar tag debate on ELL as well, and I think its usefulness as a sign that a question is improperly tagged outweighs its uselessness (at least on ELL) Even those fluent in English may have trouble properly tagging their questions because they don’t know the answer. – ColleenV parted ways Feb 15 at 16:41
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    I wholeheartedly agree. The grammar tag does no harm at all. However, giving the any impression that we don't want grammar questions here would be fatally injurious to the site. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 17 at 21:04
  • @ColleenV So you reckon we should have a "I really don't know how to categorise my question" tag? Why not leave it as untagged? – Andrew Leach Feb 28 at 0:52
2

The tag should be blacklisted.

It's not useful: a question about grammar will almost certainly be able to find more specific tags, and new users simply think that everything is covered by "grammar".

Normally, a tag must be eradicated before it can be blacklisted, but in this specific case I think there are simply too many questions to do that. One way to proceed is:

  • Do not edit the questions to remove the tag, but blacklist it to prevent its use (and subsequent recreation once it is eradicated)

If you like that course of action, please vote on this answer.

2

The problem I see with blacklisting or removing the tag is that when I go to edit a question to remove the tag, I'm stuck trying to think of some other tag to put on the question. Using as its sole replacement doesn't feel better, but that's the tag that people will go for if they can't use . Is ok to use as the sole tag for questions asking if something is grammatical? Should everything under the tag just be retagged with either or ?

Please keep in mind that many of us here never formally studied English (much less linguistics). My only qualification is that I'm a native AmE speaker, which in practice means that I'm worse off than nonnatives with knowing what things are called (with a good example being names of tenses). Many of the tags excerpts do not give a good enough explanation for me to be certain that I'm applying the right tag. This means that I need to spend 5+ minutes researching to determine what tags are right when it should take no longer than a minute.

We need better guidelines for what tags should be used before this goes any further.


Because the suggestion of just deleting the tag completely has come up, I'd like to point out that this will leave over 3,000 questions . This is bad, so if you have the time and expertise you should see if you can retag any of the questions tagged with only . I made a query to find them (keep in mind that SEDE is only updated once a week):

select id as [Post Link] from posts where tags = '<grammar>'

Lastly, about this:

...shifting "Grammar" to "Don't ask about..." in bother the Tour page and help center

I don't see this doing anything. Grammar isn't off-topic, assuming the question meets our basic quality requirements. The Help Center should give instructions for creating a good question (or link to somewhere that does) instead of confusing people.

  • 1
    Yes. Asking if something is grammatical would use the [grammaticality] tag, as featured in previous similar questions. And those questions are probably proof-reading anyway. Neither of my answers go into details about the Help pages, which would need careful attention, as you point out. I'm interested in dealing with the current mess and making it difficult to make more mess. – Andrew Leach Feb 14 at 21:09
  • same here I asked a question on ELL yesterday as a Brit the only tag I understood was the grammar one. and we only have 3 tenses as I was taught past, present and future. – WendyG Mar 21 at 11:13
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I've mentioned this in chat before, but it seems like higher academia tried, and failed to redefine the word grammar to have a more restrictive set of categories in the late 19th century through to the early 20th. You can see evidence of this in the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, the earliest printings of the Oxford English Dictionary and

At least part of it is predicated on the notion that only spoken language is real language because it is the core component of what constitutes language , with writing being an optional representation, as argued by grammarian Leonard Bloomfield. I hypothethize that part of it may also be based on etymological grounds (language is derived from the latin lingua for tongue). If there is an etymological component, it neglects to note that the gramma in grammar is essentially derived from the greek word for letter/character.

Historically speaking, the categories of grammar are include etymology (as in the overall art of word derivation), prosody, orthoepy (if not considered a part of prosody), orthography and syntax. Moreover, the word is somewhat polysemous, so in addition to these categorical arts there are definitions of it such as optimal use of a language, et cetera. You can see this in sources such as A Grammar of the English Tongue by Samuel Johnson, or The Grammar of English Grammars by Goold Brown. I could list more sources, but for the purposes of meta, I trust that suffices, so for the sake of brevity and convenience I won't. This is also only accounting for the primary definition of the word, as the word is also somewhat polysemous, and has also been used to describe optimal usage of language and things pertaining to grammar, such as grammar books.

I know that some of you are quite attached to the word grammar as specifically meaning syntax and morphology, but this not only neglects most of the word's overall historical usage in the English Language, but also the common definition of the term as held by the common man, which was likely been forced upon them as schoolchildren. Worst of all, it also leaves people who have use of the broader sense of the word with a lexical gap. This is contrary to the tenets traditionalism, populism, and the only justification for this is basically just because a few pedants say so.

Now you may disagree, and if so we don't have to settle what the word grammar should mean here. I only wish to touch upon why people find this so confusing and why the effort to make people use the grammar tag "correctly" may be so futile.

Nevertheless, despite however much I may personally disagree with her conclusion, Snailboat made a rather compelling case that grouping syntax and morphology together can be useful in her answer to What is meant by "grammar"? over at English Language Learners. Syntax and etymology are intrinsically linked, because if you change the termination of a word or reduce it to its root form, you may change its part of speech which would necessitate different syntactical treatment, which is to say nothing of the fact that affixes are generally only applicable to one or two parts of speech. We are not the only ones to note how problematic the word grammar is though, and a neologism meant to refer strictly to the interaction of these two categories exists, which is morphosyntax.

The Solution I Recommend

We do not need a category in our tag taxonomy as broad as grammar can be when interpreted broadly. Even when interpreted narrowly it is more useful for questions to be tagged with or if they only pertain to one of the two domains.

The tag as it is presently defined only makes sense if a question specifically regards the interaction of syntax and morphology. Therefore, I propose that we should create a morphosyntax tag, and make a synonym of it.

Being a technical word invented to serve a specific technical purpose, morphosyntax is a word that will probably appeal to serious linguists. It does not come with the connotations of the word grammar, and its construction deters misuse, especially by those people who do not even know what it means. This solution also helps us to avoid being bereft of tags to help isolate the specific nature of the question. We also don't need to consult upper management to create a tag synonym.

The only thing I really dislike about this solution is that a new master tag would inherit all of the mistaggings of the old one, and grammar is one of our most used tags so correcting the tag taxonomy would require an extensive effort. However, this is something we could fix with enough time and effort, and it wouldn't be all that much worse than it is now, especially since we don't even have a morphosyntax tag at the moment.

Also, grammar shouldn't be moved to the don't ask section of our scope, because questions regarding grammar, in both its broader and narrower interpretations are, at least for the most-part, on-topic. We should simply delete the word grammar from the list of accepted topics, and replace it with separate syntax and morphology bullet points, in both the tour and our help center's scope.

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