I've just asked my first question here, and got some helpful answers. However, I am not by any means an expert on the English language, and therefore lack the capability to discern whether or not the answers are correct.

Anyone can link to references, but I have no comprehension of the validity of the references or the answers given to my questions.

I come from the Stack Overflow world, where it's often easy to tell if an answer is "correct" (test the code - if it works, the answer is correct in at least some way). In this medium however, there isn't really a way to check your answers for "correctness" other than weighing peer agreement. References can be wrong or misinterpreted, and as I said - I have no idea which references to trust.

I do understand that "correct" and "accepted" are two different things, but nothing irks me more than to see a blatantly incorrect answer accepted.

In general, should I do what I normally do (accept the answer that helped me the most), or leave the question alone for a while and let the votes help me make that decision? Perhaps I should not accept an answer at all?

Addendum: If someone would share a few links to sites that are considered trusted (or never to be trusted) references, that would also help me greatly.

  • 5
    On SO, when you get multiple answers that compile, how do you decide which one to accept?
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 2:19
  • 2
    Honestly, I don't ask many questions on SO, I usually answer them, but if several answers work I would accept the one that showed the most understanding or effort. I suppose that should be applied here as well. SO is just a completely different environment to me. One difference being that no matter what answer I would get here, there's very little chance of being able to say "It didn't work".
    – user8794
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 4:27
  • 2
    That's a very good question. I was in the same situation here as well. When people started arguing which one of the two excellent answers was correct.
    – Sejanus
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 6:20
  • I was torn on what to accept on this one, and chose the answer that helped me the most and I think will help others the most, even though it was a reply to something I added later and not actually a direct answer to the question. The irony is killing me.
    – user8794
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 3:59
  • That can happen on SO too - where someone asks "How do I use X to accomplish Y", and you get two long-winded answers explaining how to do so, and a much better one saying "Don't do that, use Z instead" :-)
    – psmears
    Commented May 21, 2011 at 8:40
  • @Kosmonaut: If multiple anwers on SO do compile and give the desired result, they are technically all correct. Then it is up to the questioner to decide which one is better as of clearity, quality, or as it is in most cases; the first correct answer posted. Here on English, this meta question is not about multiple correct answers; it's about deciding if an answer is correct or not.
    – awe
    Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 7:47

4 Answers 4


Addendum: If someone would share a few links to sites that are considered trusted (or never to be trusted) references, that would also help me greatly.

We have a list of common abbreviations, and the sources on that list are all reliable (some abbreviations aren't sources, but those are fairly obvious once you click through). IMO, the most trusted sources are the OED, the COCA, and the BNC. The first is a dictionary; the latter two are corpora (they show examples of how words have been used over time). The OED, however, is not free to access—if you don't have access through a library or academic institution, Merriam Webster is a good second choice.

Additionally, for how words are commonly used, Wiktionary and Dictionary.com are generally reliable. Urban Dictionary is a mixed bag—it has a lot of slang that you won't find in other sources, but it doesn't necessarily reflect wide usage.

For grammar and usage, the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook, and the MLA Style Manual are the de facto authorities—they are all used by various news organizations or academic journals.

Of course, if there are any further sources you want to know about, feel free to ask here on Meta.English.

  • 3
    Related (main site): What are your favorite English language tools?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 7:45
  • This is great waiwai933 and @RegDwight! I'm sure this will help me, and anyone else who comes across this, immensely. This gives me a lot of confidence, thank you for sharing.
    – user8794
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 20:06
  • 1
    NB I wouldn't necessary see CMS/AP Stylebook/MLA as authoritative, useful though they may be. For one thing, they're all American, so don't take much account of different usage in the rest of the English-speaking world; for another, as style guides one of their aims is to promote consistency, so they will often favour one usage over another for that reason, rather than because the alternative is in any way "wrong".
    – psmears
    Commented May 21, 2011 at 8:46

I present an excerpt from the script to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:

        188C   FAVORING SPOCK'S STATION                                    188C

               As Spock looks baffled, Bones ENTERS SHOT.

                         You, ah...
                         You present the appearance of a man
                         with a problem.

                         Your perception is correct, Doctor...
                         In order to return us to the exact
                         moment at which we left the 23rd
                         Century, I have used our journey back
                         through time as a referent,
                         calculating the coefficient of
                         elapsed time in relation to the
                         acceleration curve.

                         So what is your problem?

                         Acceleration is no longer a constant.

                         Well, you're gonna have to take your
                         best shot.

                         ... Best shot...?

                         Guess, Spock. Your best guess.

                         "Guessing" is not in my nature...

                                 (has waited 10
                                  years for this)
                         Well nobody's perfect...

And then later:

         224   AT BRIDGE                                                    224

                         Mr. Sulu, take the con. I'm taking
                         our guest down to see her whales.
                                 (as he starts)
                         Mr. Spock: have you accounted for
                         the variable mass of whales and
                         water in your time re-entry program?

                         Mr. Scott cannot give me exact
                         figures, Admiral. So I will...
                                 (a beat)
                         Make a guess.

                         Spock, that's extraordinary.

               He steps forward, shakes Spock's hand as though he had
               just come through a great transformation. In high
               spirits, Kirk leads Gillian off the bridge, leaving a
               puzzled Spock.

                         ... I don't think he understands...

                         No, Spock. It means he feels safer
                         about your "guesses" than most other
                         peoples facts.

               There is a pause.

                         You're saying... It is a compliment.

                         It is.

               Spock straightens, pulls the bottom of his garment
               straight with dignity, and accepts the responsibility.

                         I will try to make the best guess I
  • 2
    So, I take it that I am Spock in this analogy? Doesn't seem fitting in this context. Is Spock an expert in his field? Well, as I said, I am not. I'm also not a Star Trek fan so perhaps a summary of what you're trying to tell me would be useful, I'm not quite getting the point, and not seeing how it relates to the use of this site.
    – user8794
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 23:51
  • 8
    Spock, being a man of logic accustomed to being 100% confident of the correctness of his decisions, is faced with a situation where he isn’t sure. His friends tell him to take his best shot and try to make the best guess he can. Just by posting this question you have shown be as intelligent and thoughtful as Mr. Spock, so I suggest you take his friends’ advice and make your best guess.
    – nohat Mod
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 0:05
  • 3
    Well, I feel more like Bones with multiple Spocks giving me their guesses. It sounds like you're saying "Accept the one that you think is correct" rather than "accept whichever one was most helpful to you at the time, even if it is wrong". Forgive me, this place somehow has a different feel than what I'm used to on other Stack Exchange sites, at least for questions that have a concrete factual answer. I suppose you may also be saying "Do whatever you feel like".
    – user8794
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 1:57
  • 2
    @Wesley All I am saying is you should make your best effort to accept the answer that you think is most worthy of acceptance, even though you may not be certain it is right.
    – nohat Mod
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 3:52
  • That works for me, thanks for the feedback! I felt somewhat out of place here for some reason. It may be because of a comment I got to my question: at least you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that the Chicago Manual is on your side... I have no idea what the Chicago Manual is, so I felt a bit unsure of myself, like I didn't belong here and was unworthy to judge if an answer was good or not. Thanks for the entertaining reply and helpful comments.
    – user8794
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 4:19

Accepting an answer is really no more than that, the answer was acceptable.

Yes, you really really want to accept only if the answer is correct, but frankly even on stack overflow, some answers are just educated opinions, and how is the questioner -ever- to be able to judge that.

Treat the 'accept' button for when the answer is acceptable. Did it make your understanding better? There will be competing answers (even on math.SE), so you'll still have to make your best attempt.

  • The only difference with Stack Overflow is that often you can see how useful an answer is by actually running the code (if it is a code question). It will either work or it won't. Some answers will work better than others, some won't work at all. With language questions, there's no compiler or parser that's going to yell at you for using it incorrectly. Perhaps I'm too new here and just need to lighten up.
    – user8794
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 2:07
  • 1
    ...well, there is Spell Checker :)
    – user8794
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 2:17

The FAQ says:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

So accept the one that helped you the most with your actual, real problem.

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