I had a question about the grammaticality of a specific two-word phrase. The information here explicitly instructs me to use the tag grammaticality for such questions. But the question was closed because "proofreading questions are off-topic." Five different people appear to have voted to close it so I assume it really is off-topic somehow, which is fine, but I'm at a loss to understand why.

The message does stipulate "unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified," which would give me the impression that it's intended to prevent requests for general proofreading except for the fact that my question involved only two words, the minimum necessary to have a grammatical relationship at all, and that's as specific as one can be. Unless I've misunderstood what's meant by "a specific source of concern?" Perhaps it means that I didn't specifically identify which grammar rules I'm concerned about? But if this is the case it would seem a needlessly burdensome requirement. It would discourage lay people like myself from engaging with the site, which would serve to increase the technicality of the questions but not really their quality. Questions don't have to be esoteric to be high quality. A policy like this would eliminate the possibility of questions from people who don't know what they don't know. E.g., in my case, the most I can say about the phrase is that it's prepositional. I rely on instinct and experience to write and have long since forgotten most of the actual rules. I thought my usage was correct but I wasn't certain and I wanted to know if there was something I didn't know (it turned out there was). If I had to specify which rules I was concerned about and why I was concerned about them I wouldn't be able to ask at all. And if I was able then I probably wouldn't need to. However, this seems unlikely to be the case unless this Exchange is intended only for English professionals.

I read around a bit before posting and gathered that confusion surrounding this closure reason is not uncommon. I have the idea that some mods may be rather indiscriminate in their usage of the "proofreading" tag so perhaps the issue is something else entirely? If this is the case I have to wonder about the wisdom of such a confusing practice. It's led me on a wild goose chase. But even if I disregard the stated reason I still can't come up with a reason why the question would be off-topic. What could be more germane to a forum about English language usage than a question about the proper use of the English language?

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject. Hopefully they're helpful. Ultimately, my question elicited exactly the information I wanted. All the respondents understood me perfectly and I got the answer quickly. Personally, I can't imagine a better result or more appropriate use.

Edit: Reading around some more, I've begun to think that this Exchange may in fact be intended for professionals and esoteric questions are preferred. If this is the case then perhaps my question is off-topic because it's too basic? Some of what I've read suggests "is this usage correct" questions are not wanted. If this is so, while it leaves me wondering what a question about grammaticality could be apart from correct usage, I'm happy to put any questions in the appropriate place. It seems there's some disagreement about what kinds of questions are appropriate and where. The "Learners" Exchange doesn't seem like a fit for me as I'm as mastered a layman as you're likely to find but, being a layman, I may not fit here either. My goal is to learn something about English though so perhaps ELL makes sense? I guess it really doesn't matter so long as I know which one to go to though.

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    Regarding your Edit : It's a community. Each user finds their own level in the community. "A person's gift will make room for them." Plus, it depends on one's level of interaction and one's level of commitment to the "common weal". (Plus - in a whisper - don't upset Moderators.)
    – Nigel J
    Feb 13, 2020 at 9:01
  • @NigelJ I certainly don't want to upset anyone, least of all mods, and if I have it was unintentional, done in ignorance, and I hope they will accept my apology.
    – dev_willis
    Feb 13, 2020 at 12:43
  • It just occurred to me that the (Private feedback for you) bit is probably a description of the label and not an indication that someone has sent me a message somewhere.
    – dev_willis
    Feb 13, 2020 at 13:40
  • What's the question that got closed?
    – Mitch
    Feb 13, 2020 at 15:31
  • I don't see how the "prroofreading" close reason is applicable to your question. Viewed objectively, the question is simply about whether "inculcated with" is a standard verb-preposition pairing in English. The extent to which particular verb-preposition combinations are idiomatically widespread (and therefore de facto acceptable) in English is an unpredictable and extremely tricky aspect of the language. I think your question should be reopened.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 13, 2020 at 17:55
  • @SvenYargs As is, the question asks if the sentence "John was inculcated with certain ideas." is awkward or not. The title does specify 'inculcated with'. The OP should edit to clarify within the text what it is that is desired. Is it the preposition? Is it 'inculcate' and 'ideas'? Anything else?
    – Mitch
    Feb 13, 2020 at 18:22
  • @Mitch: The actual question posed in the body of the post is this: "Is this phrase [namely, 'inculcated with'—which is the title of the post] incorrect or perhaps awkward?" The poster then offers the sentence "John was inculcated with certain ideas" as an "e.g." of the sort of usage that the poster is talking about. Again, my central point is that this isn't a proofreading question; it's a question about usage and grammaticality.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 13, 2020 at 18:31
  • @SvenYargs I was about to go ahead and edit myself then vote to reopen, but I still don't know exactly what it is that the OP wants, so it would be wrong of me to edit to clarify. Once the OP edits to clarify, then I'd be able to judge. The OP spent a lot of time writing an essay here on meta requesting a reopen; the least little bit extra they could do is edit their original question to clarify - what is it exactly in the sentence that they are asking about is it the preposition, or is it 'included with' with the particular object?
    – Mitch
    Feb 13, 2020 at 21:08
  • @Mitch I'm not sure why I need to clarify a question when it's already yielded an ideal answer.
    – dev_willis
    Feb 14, 2020 at 2:23
  • I'm giving you plausible reasons why it was closed and ways that might lead it to be reopened. I thought that's what you're looking for.
    – Mitch
    Feb 14, 2020 at 2:43
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    @Mitch I'm sorry, that probably seemed a bit short. What I'm trying to say is that the question already seems perfectly clear to me, those that responded found it clear enough to provide all the information I wanted and more, and I don't really see how to expand upon it without simply multiplying words.
    – dev_willis
    Feb 14, 2020 at 3:29
  • @Mitch Also, to be clear, I wasn't requesting a reopen. My aim was to understand the process as well as provide what I hoped would be helpful feedback on the process from the perspective of a newcomer.
    – dev_willis
    Feb 14, 2020 at 3:31

1 Answer 1


The "proofreading" close reason is supposed to apply to questions that seek either confirmation of the grammatical legitimacy of a specific piece of writing or help in correcting or improving its language. So if your question had been something like this:

I have written this sentence: "John was inculcated with certain ideas." But it sounds a little odd to me. Is it okay as written? If not, how can I improve it?

the "proofreading" close reason would have been entirely on point. The reason that English Language & Usage doesn't permit questions of this type is that they effectively turn the site into an editing/proofreading service, responding to questions that are unlikely to be of any interest to anyone other than the question's poster (because only the poster cares about the particular sentence "John was inculcated with certain ideas").

But your question, it seems to me, is about whether the verb-preposition combination "inculcated with" is standard or approved or normal sounding or widely used in English. On the one hand, close voters at this site might reasonably take the view that some strands of that question call for "opinion-based" answers—another standard close reason on this site. But on the other hand, whether "inculcated with" commonly appears in published English writing and whether it has appeared in published English writing for many years are objectively answerable in the historical record, and therefore do not ask for opinion-based answers.

It also seems to me that you may not be the only site visitor who wonders whether "inculcated with" is well established in current English and, if so, what its pedigree is. For that reason, I think your question passes the crucial test of breadth of interest: a question that multiple people may have is not "too localized" (a close reason that this site used to make available as a prefab close option and whose loss I mourn).

The objective validity of a canned close option in a particular case depends entirely on the care with which close voters select it. The point of having prewritten close reasons is to make it easier for close voters to identify a serious problem in a question that justifies their voting to close it. But to the extent that the official reason given for closing a question is supposed to guide the question's poster's efforts to improve or correct it, selecting a close reason that is ill matched to the actual weakness (if any) of the question is extremely unhelpful.

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    The question was, in fact, "Is this phrase incorrect or perhaps awkward?" and while there is evidence of research, that doesn't stop the question being proofreading. Often I am able to rewrite questions to avoid the proofreading close reason being relevant, and make it obvious that there is a more general point to be asked about. Perhaps you (or someone) could do the same with the OP's question -- which should ideally be linked in the question here.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Feb 14, 2020 at 17:44
  • @AndrewLeach I didn't link the question in the comments because I felt like it was beside the point. I'm not requesting a reopen and my question has already been answered very satisfactorily so it didn't matter, at least to me, whether anyone saw it. My goal was merely to understand the process and provide feedback as a newcomer.
    – dev_willis
    Feb 14, 2020 at 22:09
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    @AndrewLeach Also, I fully agree that it's a question about proofreading. What I don't understand is, given that grammaticality is integral to proofreading, how can the two be separated? It seems like trying to ask a question about rain without asking a question about weather.
    – dev_willis
    Feb 14, 2020 at 22:17
  • @dev_willis 1) Always give links. Otherwise you're making people jump through hoops looking for it because we can't know anything without context. 2) This meta question has all the hallmarks of a request for reopening, so if you don't want that, then you need to specify explicitly. (I'm helping you understand the process).
    – Mitch
    Feb 15, 2020 at 17:55
  • @dev_willis 3) Grammaticality is not integral to proofreading. Proofreading is asking people to correct errors in an unspecified manner. It is a major close reason. Grammar may surely be a place for error, and something to watch for during proofreading, but that's not the problem with the original question. The problem is that it is lacking in detail. And similarly 'Is this correct' questions are very problematic. They tend to be better asked on English Language Learners ; if on ELU, then you need to be much more specific, eg "What is the distribution of prepositions used with 'inculcate'?"
    – Mitch
    Feb 15, 2020 at 17:57
  • @Mitch I provided all the context that was necessary, though I can appreciate that more information is better than less. I'll try to be more thorough in the future. I can also appreciate that questions of this nature are often appeals for reopen, however, I clearly never made any requests; I merely ruminated. I don't agree that it's incumbent upon me to address every assumption that might be made. I do appreciate your help in understanding how the community is likely to see things though.
    – dev_willis
    Feb 16, 2020 at 4:36
  • @Mitch There's little else but grammaticality that's likely to be in error. Perhaps you're talking about the ELU tag called "proofreading" while I'm taking about literal proofreading?
    – dev_willis
    Feb 16, 2020 at 4:45
  • @Mitch If this question is better suited to ELL though then I will be happy to put any similar questions there in the future.
    – dev_willis
    Feb 16, 2020 at 4:51

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