This being a site about the usage of English, is it appropriate to correct errors of language in people's questions and answers? (By "errors of language", I include mistakes in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, etc.)

For those of us who don't have the reputation to edit entries, is it appropriate to instead add a comment to an entry, pointing out any errors and suggesting corrections?

On the one hand, people are (presumably) coming to this site in order to learn about and improve their English, so it would seem fitting to point out if they make mistakes.

On the other hand, I wouldn't want anyone to feel put off contributing to the site, for fear that someone will tear their entry apart for every minor mistake.

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    @Dori: This is not a bad idea at first glance, but as has been brought up, how do you draw the line on what is and isn't an ESL question? – Neil Fein Aug 26 '10 at 18:37

I think that since correcting grammar and spelling is appropriate — and even actively encouraged — on StackExchange sites about cooking, programming, and gaming, it must be certainly allowed on a site that is all about English.

However, if you have reason to believe that a particular user could be offended by your correction and leave the site never to return, then by all means feel free to abstain. Just as in spoken conversation, there may be people whom you would correct and others whom you wouldn't.

When someone clicks on the "edit" link, they see a box that states:

How to Edit

  • fix grammatical or spelling errors
  • clarify meaning without changing it
  • correct minor mistakes
  • add related resources or links
  • always respect the original author

I think this wording is perfectly fine, as long as you don't ignore the last bullet.

As to edits vs comments, I wouldn't (mis)use the latter for merely pointing out errors. This would simply create too much noise. Also, such comments immediately become obsolete once the question/answer has been edited accordingly, but they will potentially linger there for all eternity. Not everyone who is allowed to edit is also allowed to delete other people's comments (in fact, only moderators are), not everyone knows about flagging comments so that they are deleted automatically, and we certainly can't expect everyone to watch all their comments and delete them when appropriate.

Lastly, I'd find a comment that points out a typo in my question/answer far more insulting than a simple edit that fixes that typo. I'm not sure why, that's just how I personally feel, YMMV.

  • You may find this related post interesting. I agree with you and think this topic should be carefully addressed. – ErikE Sep 26 '10 at 8:43
  • I don't know about flagging comments so that they are deleted automatically. Can you explain how that works? – FumbleFingers Aug 29 '11 at 17:35
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    @Fumble: if a comment gets flagged by six people within two days, it gets auto-deleted. – RegDwigнt Aug 29 '11 at 19:46

I agree that simply fixing what is unambiguously a typo would be the best way to handle this, but would be more valuable and instructive if the original author can see the correction. How does this work? If your question is corrected, can you see the "paper trail"? Does the asker's rep factor into this?

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    This is not obvious from the UI, but if you click on the timestamp in the "edited" notation on an answer or question, it will take you to the revision list for the item in question, showing graphically what was removed or added. – nohat Aug 25 '10 at 21:21

I tried correcting a simple spelling mistake but you have to change at least 6 characters to make a valid edit. Seems strange. In this case it was only a swapped pair of letters, and only worthwhile because it was the actual word the user was asking the meaning of that they mistyped in the body of the question (it was correct in the title).

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    I can usually find something else to edit that carries me over the 6-character limit: a bit of formatting, some extra space to make things read better, and ta-da. (Of course, I also have the rep to edit things directly, so I'm not actually subject to the 6-character minimum, but even so.) – Marthaª Feb 11 '11 at 16:33
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    You can also add a   on to the end of the text.... – Hellion Feb 12 '11 at 1:16
  • This. @Hellion has an interesting workaround. But then why have the restriction? On the other hand, as this answer implies, sometimes a typo's just no big deal. (I say that but I wonder if the number of times a typo might get mentally tripped over makes it much more worth correcting in a public forum. Similarly, how many times in my life will I have to hear that's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind? I know, I know, he said furra. Or didn't. Such a poignant story of humanity, really.) – RJH Dec 6 '15 at 23:04

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