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Overview

The question What is the difference between “[I] may [be] …” and “even though … ”? was recently locked.

I had posted the following comment:

In this context, may normally implies the possibility of something—it means might; Even though implies the absolute existence of something, where something else happens despite it. Why do you think they mean the same thing here, and what is the meaning that you are ascribing to both?

In addition to posting that clarifying question, asking why the the original poster thought there was a difference, I also voted to close the question as lacking research. (And if the original asker had said, "Oh, my mistake," I would have left my close vote, in favour of closing the question as poor quality rather than having any actual answer provided at all.

As far as I'm concerned, I was not providing an answer to the question in any way. I was looking for additional information. In order to get that information, I had to provide some references and common definitions. I might also have retracted my close vote and then posted an actual answer had the question been clarified, based on my comment.

After that, the question was locked immediately after I received this comment:

@JasonBassford Please don't write answers in comments; they are harmful to our site. Doing so bypasses our community-moderated quality measures by not permitting community editing or paired up- and down-voting available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don't use them for other purposes.

As my comment indicated, I had posted it for clarification of and improvement to the question. In order to actually answer the question, I needed more information that could only be provided in response to the comment I posted.

As raised in a previous post on this meta, I posted this comment:

First of all, that's not an actual policy. Second, even if it were, it's never been applied consistently before. Third, that's awfully subjective, and it makes no sense for you to start locking question when you simply don't like the comments. If you really think that should be something that should be done going forward, you should decide that with the other moderators, probably user input, and announce a policy change.

The link that to the Meta discussion, is merely a link to a Meta discussion. It is not any sort of official Stack Exchange policy, nor is it a stated policy of English Language & Usage in particular.

There has been no official adoption of it, nor have any kind of guidelines been laid out as to when a comment is not a comment but an answer, nor if a comment is disallowed if somebody actually votes to close a question.

In this case, my own comment clearly sought clarification on the part of the person who'd asked the question. I didn't just post a statement and then leave it at that, but I also asked for an explanation. Also, I voted to close the question—thereby preventing me (on principle) from also providing a proper answer even if I wanted to (without retracting my close vote).


If we're now going to provide "supporting" evidence for what is and isn't allowed, I shall reference Answers in comments, as posted two years by @Andrew Leach, a moderator here, to this particular meta.

In that question, a poll was taken, where the community was asked to vote on how comments should be handled. All other results aside, the most clearly popular viewpoint was the following:

Option 3: Answers may be made in comments where the question is off-topic but we still wish to help the asker.

Barring my comment being just one of clarification, even if it were interpreted as an actual answer, my vote to close the question as off topic would have warranted the information I provided in the comment.


So, I shall repeat my previous question. Why are questions now being locked when a particular comment is simply not liked? This procedure (which is not an actual policy), seems to do more harm to questions than good—because it prevents any kind of clarifying comments that could lead to a worthwhile refinement of questions, or, thereby, to any resulting actual answers of good (and relevant) quality.


Specific questions

  1. How is it objectively determined when a comment is an answer "in disguise" and not just a clarifying comment?

  2. Why are questions being locked rather than the comments (which are always considered ephemeral anyway) simply deleted?

  3. If a question has been voted to be closed, why has the community sentiment of still being able to say something in the comments to help the questioner been ignored?

  4. Despite protestations to the contrary, why has this behaviour of locking questions for comment answers suddenly been introduced? I have only seen this being done by one moderator, only in the past couple of weeks, and also in an inconsistent manner. This is not something that has occurred on any kind of regular basis in the past several years at all.

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Posts are not locked when comments "are not liked".

Posts are locked when people cannot hold back from answering in comments, or when comment chains become discursive. Doing those things makes our site worse.

  • Comments cannot be searched.
  • Comments cannot be selected as having answered the question.
  • Comments cannot be community edited.
  • Comments have no community-visible edit history.
  • Comments cannot be downvoted.
  • Comments have to be waded through to find answers.

Answers worth keeping go in the answer box. This is not open to debate or voting.

Neither moderators nor the community at large may change the policy that answers go in the answer box, not in the comment box. That’s because Stack Exchange was created for the express purpose of having question-and-answer sites where all these problems did not happen. We are not at liberty to change those founding principles.

If this is not to your liking, other places on the Internet may better serve you.

Every day moderators are greeted with dozens of comments flagged for deletion because they contain answers. This is a great help because it saves us the trouble of finding those ourselves. Please continue.

Comments are ephemera. They work against the Stack Exchange model. They are subject to deletion without notice.

All you need to do is stop putting answers in comments, and questions won't have their comments purged, moved, or locked to prevent that from happening.

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    If this is not to your liking, other places on the Internet may better serve you. the tone is unnecessary and counterproductive, Bassford is one of the most prolific answerers on EL&U. – Mari-Lou A Aug 24 at 6:41
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    This is no way answers my question. (1) How do you determine when a comment is "an answer" as opposed to something clarifying? (2) Why are you locking the questions rather than simply deleting the comments? (3) If voting to close, why are comments of any kind not acceptable? (4) Why has this only just started to happen in the past 2 weeks—and only inconsistently? This locking of questions due to perceived answers is not something that has been done in the past couple of years on any kind of regular basis at all. – Jason Bassford Aug 24 at 13:37
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    Since I often answer simpler questions in comments because it takes fewer keystrokes than going through the bureaucracy, I wonder whether I am being invited to go elsewhere unless I change my politically incorrect habits. Dream on. – John Lawler Aug 24 at 15:36
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    @JohnLawler I've been going out of my way to convert comments worth saving into "community wiki" answers. – tchrist Aug 24 at 17:09
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    @tchrist And I always dowvnote any kind of answer that is simply "it's not grammatical," anything else similarly short, or any answer without any kind of research or thought out explanation. The conversion of comments that should never be answers into answers is definitely harmful to the site. – Jason Bassford Aug 24 at 21:04
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    I am not a member for long but have a little experience. IMO, comments should not be locked. If someone writes an answer in the comments and it is the answer to the question, they should convert it into an answer afterwards. Most of the time, as far as I know, members write answers in the comments and wait for the "comment-upvotes" (because they are not sure if the suggested comment fits the description of the question), they convert it into an answer later on because their comments have got upvotes and it reassures the commenter that the suggested comment can serve as an answer. – Sphinx Aug 25 at 11:52
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    Deleting comments is one thing. But locking those questions such that no further comments can be added is clearly against the spirit of SE. If I can't ask the OP for clarification, then a question which could have been made answerable is resigned to never being answered. e.g. I need to ask where the poster first saw this usage so we can start to untangle this question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/542411/… but now cannot do so. So either the question remains unanswered, or worse yet, people start using answers to ask for clarification. – JeffUK Aug 25 at 13:11
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    "Posts are locked when people cannot hold back from answering in comments, or when comment chains become discursive. Doing those things makes our site worse." in this case, is the person asking the question not being punished for the actions of other people? Their question becomes less likely to be answered because lots of people decided to comment on it? – JeffUK Aug 25 at 13:13
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    It's worth noting that the help english.stackexchange.com/help/locked-posts says that temporary locks should be used whenever modifications to a post are causing *serious* problems on the site. and that Permanent locks should almost never be used – JeffUK Aug 25 at 13:48
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Comment locks are not permanent. Locks are generally for a short duration intended to encourage people to use the answer box for answers, cool tempers, or redirect discussions to chat. They may be made permanent if the question continues to attract answers-in-comments or extended discussions. A permanent lock can be appealed by posting a request on Meta.

Comments have long been a battleground on this site. Some members are very attached to this mode for all types of communication. We've even had long-time users ragequit over having a comment deleted.

My theory is that some people become used to the chat room discussions or are generally adapted to texting, and so using the comment box feels conversational, inclusive, friendly, and informal. And who wouldn't like to have a friendly chat about a topic of interest? Especially because if we're chatting about it, nobody needs to do the hard work of posting fleshed out research.

The fact is, however, that comments defeat the purpose of the question and answer format because the site itself was designed for people to read a question and then the various answers to it. A transcript of a discussion in the comments makes it nearly impossible to figure out the nuances of the various suggestions and sidebars.

Part of the trouble is that we have long-term users who don't want to put a lot of effort into answering the kinds of questions we get these days, but do want to continue contributing to the site. Unfortunately, they don't seem to understand the harm they do. They set a bad example for others as many askers feel satisfied by the comment discussion. They've gotten their answer except that now we have "answers" that cannot be community improved, cannot be community edited, cannot be community up- or downvoted upon, and cannot be pulled out from the rest by an Accepted mark.

They become sadly orphaned questions left in the Unanswered section of the site.

So with that in mind, here are your questions again:

  1. How is it objectively determined when a comment is an answer "in disguise" and not just a clarifying comment?

It's not "objectively" determined, since actual people are doing the work. However, generally "Will X word work?" or "Why doesn't X word fit?" would be an answer in disguise. "This is the answer to your question" is also a good indicator that it's an answer in a comment. Additionally, we also remove comments that are requests for clarification when the post has been edited to provide that clarification, and we also remove clarifying comments when the clarification has been edited into the post.

  1. Why are questions being locked rather than the comments (which are always considered ephemeral anyway) simply deleted?

Have you ever been on the open ocean with a hole in your boat and a very small bucket?

  1. If a question has been voted to be closed, why has the community sentiment of still being able to say something in the comments to help the questioner been ignored?

I don't understand what you are asking here. The question is not closed.

  1. Despite protestations to the contrary, why has this behaviour of locking questions for comment answers suddenly been introduced? I have only seen this being done by one moderator, only in the past couple of weeks, and also in an inconsistent manner. This is not something that has occurred on any kind of regular basis in the past several years at all.

You have only seen it recently because we have had the ability to do so only for a short period of time. You've seen it done by one moderator because there's just a few of us and he's the one here most often. He has the full support of the other moderators. It may seem sporadic and inconsistent to you, but we have to direct our efforts to maximum effect, so it's applied to questions that are Hot Network Questions or may become so, and generally also single word requests, and also questions where many members are offering answers in the comments.

It would be beneficial if users who no longer wish to answer but still wish to contribute spent time spiffing up existing questions and answers rather than commenting. Save that for the chat room.

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    Have you considered that locking questions permanently is contrary to the advice here english.stackexchange.com/help/locked-posts and actively harmful, as it leaves people unable to leave 'appropriate' comments, specifically those asking for clarification, which allow us to better answer questions (which is, after all, what the site is for.) – JeffUK Aug 25 at 14:01
  • Comments are not locked permanently. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 25 at 14:01
  • Could you consider editing your answer to explain that these locks are temporary, and for how long they apply? – JeffUK Aug 25 at 14:02
  • Yes, I will do that. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 25 at 14:02
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    @KitZ.Fox The question was not closed. But I voted to close it. In my opinion, in its current state, it should be closed, because no answer would be clearly correct without further clarification to the question—which is also the comment I had made: an attempt to get that clarification that could then make me retract my close vote. (But if it's locked, nobody can ask such clarifying comment.) – Jason Bassford Aug 25 at 14:06
  • @KitZ.Fox Also, it's impossible for a user to "spiff up" a question, if it's unclear what the question is asking. To do so would be to put words into the mouth of the person asking the question which might or might not be accurate. – Jason Bassford Aug 25 at 14:09
  • @JasonBassford The sentiment to leave a comment providing an answer for a closed question doesn't apply to a question you feel should be closed but is not closed already. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 25 at 14:11
  • I would not expect anyone to spiff up a question that was unclear to them. We do encourage our members to edit posts to include the useful bits of information that are included in clarifying commentary so that the comments can then be deleted. It was this behaviour that I was referring to. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 25 at 14:13
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    "Why doesn’t X word fit?" seems like a request for clarification  to me. – Scott Aug 26 at 20:17
  • I understand why it seems like clarification, but if I say "why doesn't 'riled up' work?", the reply could be "oh, yes, 'riled up' does work! Thanks" This is a better interaction for an answer that describes why the answerer feels like that word would fit and then the OP can comment on the answer to provide more specific detail. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 27 at 14:41
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    @KitZ.Fox then why are these answers flagged for deletion and users recommended to leave a comment instead english.stackexchange.com/review/low-quality-posts/379993 english.stackexchange.com/review/low-quality-posts/379525 ? – JeffUK Aug 28 at 13:34
  • @JeffUK I believe you are referring to the canned response that can be added from the review queue, eg "This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post." The answers are flagged for deletion because they are not answers. The recommendation to leave a comment, as you can see, is for critique or requesting clarification. – Kit Z. Fox Sep 3 at 20:09
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    @KitZ.Fox I think you're saying that 'would you accept $word' is an answer when posted as a comment, but not an answer when posted as an answer. – JeffUK Sep 4 at 15:27
  • I will clarify by saying they aren't sourced and supported answers. A comment that says "what do you think about unjinxed?" leads the OP to think "yes, that works" then they never return, nor is there an answer much less an accepted one. An answer that says "what do you think about unjinxed?" has the possibility of having the OP at least accept the answer and it could be improved with community edits later. The canned response you are referring to is canned, which means it is a standard template that is provided as an option to reviewers who select "not an answer" when reviewing answers. – Kit Z. Fox Sep 10 at 17:24
  • Personally, I would have used the "needs reference" template, but it's a matter of taste according to the individual reviewer. – Kit Z. Fox Sep 10 at 17:25

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