I know that the common and most acceptable way to deal with poorly posed questions is to point the OP to ways to better ask questions and to probe for clarification in comments. This issue comes up a lot and it is not always the OPs fault. We want people to participate when they are interested in English grammar even if they are not natives of English language.

Neverthless, as far as I concern, sometimes people ask too much to the OPs, even when a competent speaker of English language surely can understand that the OP doesn't have enough expertise to clarify their question.

Among others, see the following example:

CS - What makes this a question to you? Do you not know what the words mean? Do you suspect only one is of the correct part of speech for the grammar to be correct? What reasoning have you put into this before finding yourself stuck?

OP - I just wanted to have an answer as I am not 100% sure.

CS - Why do you think it's number 1. If we don't know where your confusion is, how can we help you understand it?

OP - Normally this sentence comes when you talk on phone. Right? Therefore I think that anwswer 1 is correct. BTW, I am learning English, so I put this sentence here.

Reading that thread I was wondered if the CS could make an educated guess at the OP intended question and choose to answer.

So question is, do you agree with my position or do you see something wrong? If you think it is wrong could you please give your reasoning?

  • Without that clarification, the question is not likely to help anyone else--and that's a large part of asking questions here.
    – user10893
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 22:42
  • 2
    The reality is that this Stack is not tolerant of non-native English speakers and ruthlessly shuts down questions from them. It's going to be interesting to see what happens to this Stack once the English Language Learners Stack gets up and running. The fact your question already has a down vote says all you need to know. Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 22:57
  • 3
    Sim is right: The site owners want the site to attract experts and become the place where experts gather to ask and answer questions. Questions which are not of interest, especially to experts, are not helpful.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 22:58
  • 7
    @spicey that is an awful misrepresentation. On-topic questions are welcome from everyone. And there are extremely many non-native or bilingual speakers here. Look through the top 100 users to see native speakers of Italian, Hungarian, Turkish, Hindi, French, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Russian, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew... And ELL only got where it is now thanks to the tremendous effort ELU put into creating it and defending it against the powers that be. Just look at the list of committers. Do you recognize the names from somewhere?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:27
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    @spiceyokooko Reg himself is not a native English speaker. Downvotes on Meta, further, represent disagreement, so don't read into it like you are.
    – user10893
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:32
  • @sim, as you know I don't speak English language and, sincerely, I don't understand what the meaning of "don't read into it like you are" is. Could you please explain?
    – user19148
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:41
  • 1
    @RegDwighт But the site definition of on topic heavily discriminates against non-competent non-native English speakers. Perhaps I should have made that clearer. If this site was more open minded as to the types of questions it would deal with there would never have been the need for another English site. As I said, I'm going to be very interested to see what happens and where this stack goes once the other gets underway, personally I think it will disappear up its own backside. Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:43
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    @Simchona Firstly, I can read into it any way I like, oddly enough I am entitled to an opinion regardless of whether you like it or not. Secondly, my point was, I'm not surprised people down vote it - they aren't and won't like it. That is consistent with the types of people that are here. Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:46
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    @spicey; if you mean by 'the types of people that are here' those people who disagree with misrepresentation and prefer informed opinion to uninformed, then yes, that type of person is heavily represented here. Also heavily represented is the type of person who puts work into a site such as ELL even though it will not be directly useful to them, rather than criticising ELU because it is what it says it is. Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 12:30
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    @TimLymington ELU is what it says it is? Ahh the irony. What part of the title English Language & Usage in any way represents Advanced and Expert English Language use? No part of that title in any way shape or form even hints at the expert level the heavy hitters and mods here have shaped it into being. The laughable irony of course is that the English experts here can't even name their own stack to reflect the subject. No wonder then so many people looking for help with the English language come here and leave disgruntled. Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 12:39
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    @spiceyokooko: I have to say the main "disgruntled" user I notice lately is you - and you're not actually leaving, so far as I know. Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 5:11
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    I think the "bias" against non-native speakers is largely a myth. Some see questions being asked in comments, or downvotes being cast, and presume that insular members of a clique are berating the outsider, and piling on. In reality, if a power user asked the same question as the O.P., in the same format, that power user would get asked the same sorts of questions. At one time Carlo thought I was in the habit of berating non-natives; after I insisted I was only asking out of a spirit of helpfulness, he reexamined my remarks, and realized I wasn't being rude as was initially presumed.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 4:56

4 Answers 4


I didn't closevote that example question because when I first looked at it, the OP still hadn't given any meaningful response to Jon Hanna's perfectly reasonable requests for clarification, so I figured the matter was still "in abeyance".

The next time I looked, Bill Franke had posted what I thought was a perfectly adequate answer as a comment. If it hadn't already been closed I'd have closevoted as General Reference then, because I think it's an inherently trivial question that doesn't enhance ELU in the slightest.

But looking at the timings, it appears it was closed before Bill Franke's comment. I can't say I endorse that, because even though I'd rather not have such trivial questions asked at all, I think common politeness dictates we should at least address what seems to have been a genuine enquiry.

To that extent, I agree with Carlo_R's implied position that ELU is sometimes be less "welcoming" than perhaps it could/should be. But I completely reject spiceyokooko's comment that the site is not tolerant of non-native English speakers.

Some questions from non-native speakers raise interesting issues, and some are trivial. But at the end of the day, ELU isn't an EFL resource; it's supposed to be about the finer points of English, not banalities.


Reputation and privilege is the political power on this site. If you don't like to see questions get closed, then use your re-open vote, since you have enough reputation to do so.


Isn't that why those of us with enough rep., have the ability/power to edit a question if we think it's poorly worded upon seeing it first, to improve it for others, and maybe get the OP the answer they need.

  • 1
    Yes, if the intent of the question is clear. If it isn't, so an edit could fundamentally alter the intended question, then it's necessary to ask for clarification. Very often -- too often -- that clarification is context.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 9:47

I have often had people object to my questions, as in the top comment here, maybe not explicitly but the tone of disapproval is unmistakable. That's just one example. Now, if the objection comes on account of the question being out of scope of ELU topics, that is acceptable. One might not like a question and decide not to answer it. But objecting to it or downvoting it simply because one doesn't like it on subjective grounds, is something I find disappointing and discouraging. Most users who downvote don't even mention why they think the question or the answer is downvotable. Does that in any way help the poster improve what he or she posted? I don't think so.

Some users on ELU are linguists, scholars and experts on the English language and for learners like me it is always a pleasure reading their answers. That's perhaps one good reason why I ask questions on ELU rather than considering doing a research on the Internet and finding out answers myself. After all, there is enough amount of resources available on the Internet that virtually anything can be researched, only that a research calls for certain skills, for example, an ability to put together bits of information and process them into something that makes sense. That gets difficult at times and which is another reason why I post my questions on ELU.

While it is perfectly acceptable that duplicate questions and questions that are off-topic need to be closevoted and eventually closed, I request users, especially the ones with high reputation, to be more tolerant and accommodating wherever it is possible because you can't expect all users to post only such questions that make perfect sense.


Now that I am awaiting deletion of my SE account (of course, I have requested that myself), I thought I should make this one edit.

I wish to add, in view of comments below by certain respected users, that there are several hundred questions on SE, especially on ELU, which have been posted with no prior research despite being easily researchable, and yet they haven't been downvoted or closevoted. I find that peculiar bearing in mind the strong voice that has been raised against questions posted without prior research.

  • 2
    On the other hand, that particular question wasn't difficult to research (if you know where to look). Prior research is a pre-requisite, as shown by the tooltip text on the question upvote button. Doing the research I did was interesting, but if you are interested in the subject should you not have looked into it prior to asking? There may be more to say in researching a conclusion had you presented in the original question what I found for the answer. I'm afraid I don't think that not doing research is...
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 15:06
  • 1
    ...something to be made into a virtue, really.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 15:06
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach: Okay. Let's put it this way. I will research on subjects that I find interesting, I find out my answers. Why would I come to ELU then? In fact, why would anyone come to ELU? Nearly everything can be researched and nearly every answer can be found out through research. The point is, a person such as yourself who knows English well, can be much more effective, as you have been, in explaining something related to the language than someone like me, a non-native speaker, going about researching on his own.
    – user32480
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 15:33
  • 1
    @InglishTeeture: You will come back to the ELU to post your questions after you have done your research and "show" your research and to ask for help in joining the remaining bits and pieces of information you don't understand or need to have clarifications upon. And, if the research was sufficient, you may well not come! I am baffled by your admission that you don't believe in research before posting your questions here. As Andrew said above, research always goes to add value to the questions and you may never taste that fruit because you don't go that path at all!!
    – Mohit
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 15:51
  • @InglishTeeture: I just closevoted the "nines" question, and justified this on the grounds that most small numbers have many associated idiomatic usages, with many different reasons why that particular number occurs in that particular expression. It's easy to look up the origins of almost every individual expression, but it probably won't have any relationship to most other expressions using the same number, so the "question" isn't meaningfully a question that can be answered. Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 18:41
  • ...re your complaint about people closevoting "because they don't like the question". I don't see how you can say that at the same time as complaining that they're closevoting without giving a reason. All the previous closevotes for the "nines" question were NARQ, which I don't think qualifies as "I don't like this question" (it's just obvious and valid). The fact of the matter is you don't know why people downvote unless they explain in a comment, but that doesn't mean you can invent some supposed reason and then attack them for that. Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 18:44
  • And of course, if it is a valid question and you have done the research and find it interesting, and can possibly identify a link which your sources have not, then there is nothing stopping you posting your question and the answer.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 19:12
  • @FumbleFingers: Relax, all of you – the erudite! I'm out of here. Goodluck with your downvoting and closevoting!
    – user32480
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 2:30

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