A question posted on English.SE recently was downvoted because of the "Hyphens, spellings mistakes, inconsistent capitalization," and "inscrutable word use," and I assume that the second downvote was for the same reason.

But I feel as though it's possible the OP is using English as a second or third language, and just isn't grounded on the fundamentals of English usage.

I'm not saying the downvotes are wrong, but rather, I'd like to know if the possibility of grammatically bad questions due to lack of good English skills, as opposed to lazyness or lack of attention to detail, is taken into account when encountering a question with very bad grammar on English.SE. And if it ends up being the former, should a question still be downvoted?

  • On the one hand, ELU is not supposed to be ESL, so a grammar standard is acceptable.
    – user10893
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 1:57
  • 4
    In my experience, a foreigner whose English is rather bad but who takes pains to express himself clearly is usually quite intelligible and effective. So I really think laziness is key—it just shows more in foreigners. Commented May 25, 2012 at 4:13

2 Answers 2


I've just downvoted and voted to close the specific question OP linked to. But that's got nothing to do with poor grammar (which has been corrected anyway) - it's just that I think the meaning of "xxxxx-born" is General Reference.

As a general principle I don't think questions should be downvoted/closed because of bad grammar. Many of us have enough rep to edit and correct faults; we should just do so without comment.

Complaining on the main site about low-quality phrasing of questions is a bit pointless. Many questioners aren't native English speakers, and I think it's gratuitously rude to criticise their poor grammar/vocabulary. If the substance of a question is good, either correct or ignore poor phrasing.

  • 3
    As long as the point of the question is clear for people to answer accurately.
    – Zolani13
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 15:31
  • @Zolani13: Yes, well if a question is so badly worded that we can't even figure out what's being asked, people post comments requesting clarification. If the OP can't or won't clarify, it'll probably get closed as "Not Constructive", which is fine by me. Commented May 25, 2012 at 15:50

And if it ends up being the former, should a question still be downvoted?

The standard advice for downvoting: unclear or not useful

Down-voting isn't primarily intended for punishment. Its main purpose is to rate and rank questions and answers according to their quality. If a question is unclear because the author is struggling to use English, or unclear because he lacked the care to make it clear... It doesn't really matter. It's still unclear.

And of course, folks will always tend to down-vote stuff that irritates them. I suppose, on a site dedicated to the use of English, there might be one or two who would find poor usage irritating.

If seeing it down-voted makes you uncomfortable, you could always edit it...

  • I did edit it. I wasn't uncomfortable; I just wanted to know what the general stance on this topic was. +1 for the photo use.
    – Zolani13
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 4:11

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