What is the reason behind the highest number of questions (users questioning) in English Language & Usage Stack Exchange (EL&U)? I wonder that the following tags haven't overpassed it ever:

Does it mean that the users requesting single-words want to improve their vocabulary? Or does it mean that they just love having the words they don't know and/or the words having no existence at all?

From the ELU "Tags" page:

Screen capture of "Tags" page showing tags in decreasing order of popularity, with the number of tagged questions listed in the header. The first line reads "single-word request x 15846 meaning x 13667 grammar x 10477 word-choice x 9968".

  • 2
  • @Mari-LouA 'plaguejoy' just sent in to the OED.
    – Mitch
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:22
  • How do you know this? Do you have a link to a SEDE query?
    – Mitch
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:23
  • @Mitch I presume the second comment is for the OP. But if one hovers their mouse over the tag, you see the number of questions posted. In the case of SWR it's 15.8k questions whilemeaning only has 13.7k questions and grammar has but 10.5k questions
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:24
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    You could very well argue that any question about the past tense, future, conditional, syntax, the possessive apostrophe, etc. is a grammar question but not everyone uses that tag, which is just as well. It is pretty much ubiquitous on an English language website.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:30
  • 1
    It is a natural mental human activity to try to express a concept as succinctly as possible. As a matter of fact, dictionaries are made up of single word entries, each of which is the "synthesis" of a longer expression. So no surprise users love SWRs.
    – user 66974
    Nov 27, 2018 at 16:16
  • @Mari-LouA 1) Both questions were for the OP 2) roll-over of actual tags works as you point out, but the "x" markup feature doesn't (but following the link will give the info (but thanks for summarizing). My intuitive assessment is that SWRs are not that common, they just stand out as very interesting. If I squint, I see mostly questions about grammar (whether tagged as such or not).
    – Mitch
    Nov 27, 2018 at 17:01
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    @Mitch I've added a screen capture of the part of the site where I think users are most likely to run across this information.
    – 1006a
    Nov 27, 2018 at 21:32
  • I'm not sure where the idea comes from, but many people have the idea that there are so many words in English that there is a single word for any concept at all. The fact that fixed phrases are far more common than single words in specific situations always comes as a shock. There's not much we can do about such a widespread misapprehension, though it might help if we didn't have a "single word" tab. Dec 11, 2018 at 16:18

3 Answers 3


I think the nature of those types of questions means they're more likely to stick around.

  1. The criteria for a question to remain open are easier (giving example sentences with placeholders is easier than thoroughly demonstrating why your research didn't give you an answer to your grammar question)
  2. It's harder to demonstrate that one really is a duplicate of an older SWR question when you have different askers with different intentions
  3. They're easier to answer, so less likely to be removed because of low activity and no answers

I think it’s pretty simple: for most English speakers, there are more occasions where they are uncertain about how to word something than where they are uncertain about the meaning, usage or grammar of a word that they already know.

Speakers of any level may have questions about vocabulary, whereas questions about grammar tend to come from either ESL learners (who have the alternative of asking at the ELL site, and are often encouraged to do so) or people interested in studying grammar for its own sake.


It’s a matter of available tools. Reverse dictionaries simple aren’t as good as asking a group of people with a large vocabulary. Even a thesaurus will fall short when you can only express the meaning as a sentence. And use of an incorrect word is potentially really embarrassing.

There are grammar resources available and grammar mistakes do not necessarily obscure intent. English grammar is often difficult, so mistakes are common and don’t have the same potential for embarrassment.

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