Lately I've been seeing quite a few “general reference” and “proofreading” close votes that seem inappropriate to me. For example:

There is overwhelming agreement that “at least one” is singular in number, but in answering the question, I could not find a source that explains why the consensus answer is correct, clearly and unambiguously. I suspect that people felt the question was too basic, and they assumed that there must be a general reference that answers the question, but so far as I can tell it doesn't actually exist. (I'll note that tchrist did at least link to an ngram that strongly suggests the correct answer, but I don't accept that an ngram alone is sufficient to answer or close a question – ngrams have too many pitfalls, and they don't tell you why an answer is correct.)

The explanatory text for this close vote states, “Proofreading questions are off-topic unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified.” This question does clearly identify a specific source of concern: whether to use an adjective or adverb in a specific context. I've seen other examples of this recently too.

Both of these questions are pretty basic, and neither one showed much in the way of research effort, so I would understand if people simply downvoted them. However, I don't think we should be voting to close as off-topic unless the questions actually fit the close reasons!

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    The "at least one" question is pretty degenerate; there is little there. There are many reasons to close vote. The "concurrent(ly)" question is also pretty degenerate. Which is right, adjective or adverb? There are many reasons to close vote. Proofreading or genref or the old too localized or surely there's a duplicate. So 'proofreading' doesn't follow the literal rule, some indication to the OPs is needed.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 12:35
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    Yes, I agree that “some indication” is needed, but should we really be close-voting for reasons that don't actually apply? In particular, I strongly object to close-voting under the assumption that some reason might apply, if people are clearly not verifying that they actually apply. Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 12:42
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    The close reasons all suck. They're too vague. They should be closed themselves. But people's questions suck more. Comments should explain how to fix things but they don't. Sadly, there is no close or down voting for comments.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 19:49
  • -1 Don't know about the cited posts but I would think this question is GR, seriously. No offense there.
    – Kris
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 7:09
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    @Kris I don't know what you mean by that. What's the general reference for closing questions that don't appear to suit the close reason? Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 17:08
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    I have a suspicion that people will just closevote questions they don't like, regardless of whether or not the close category is valid.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 14:38

1 Answer 1


I didn't closevote on either of these questions, but I've no problem with those who did.

At least one of the questions OP refers to is General Reference, because one is obviously singular. Grammatically (if not semantically) I can validly say at least two were properly closed (not was, because two is plural).

And the other one is, in my opinion, "writing advice". If not, then it's probably a duplicate, since there's no reason why consecutive should be any different to, for example, drive safe / safely, or come quick / quickly. Per my own related question, terminology and "correct" usage are fluid concepts here. The question showed no evidence of prior research, nor any interest in the factors affecting the choice. It just asked which to use, which looks like writing advice to me.

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    One is obviously singular, but the noun phrase at least one is not, semantically, and I could not find a general reference that explains why the grammatical number follows the syntax instead of the semantics. And as far as I know, lack of research is a down vote reason here but not a close reason (unlike, say, at Skeptics). Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 17:14
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    @ Bradd Szonye: I've no idea why anyone would think preceding it with at least converts one to a possible plural. Grammatically one could just as well omit at least, or move it somewhere else in the sentence and/or "parenthesise" it, without affecting the basic principle. One of the questions OP refers to, at least, is GR. Some things are just so obvious to native speakers you might not easily find a reference source, but ELU isn't really targeted at non-native speakers who don't know such basic points. Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 17:49
  • Would you say the same thing about every one, which is grammatically singular even though it clearly refers to more than one thing semantically? Don't you think there's anything interesting about that conflict between the meaning of the noun phrase and its grammatical number? In other cases, like plural government, we deal with this the opposite way. See also: Basic questions are not so basic. Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 11:09
  • @Bradd: Everyone know this sentence is wrong. Well, at least every native speaker knows it should be singular. The fact that there are lots of native speakers is irrelevant when what you're doing is referencing any single individual from that category. It's a bit dated/formal, but one still sometimes uses one instead of anybody, everybody, anyone, everyone, and all of these alternatives are always grammatically singular. Which may be interesting/non-intuitive to non-native speakers, perhaps, but it's still GR in the context of ELU. Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 14:19
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    Part of what bugs me here is that I find the question interesting, and so it bothers me to see most everyone else so dismissive of it. The rules aren't very consistent in this area, and one seems a bit of a special case, and I would actually like it explained to me why that is. I considered re-writing the question to highlight what I thought was interesting about it, but I didn't want to overreach. Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 14:28
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    @Bradd: Well, it's hardly true that everyone [is] so dismissive. I assume you include me in that "everyone" - but as I write, three people have upvoted my answer and three others have downvoted it. Which I suggest means that, collectively, ELU is at most "ambivalent" about whether this issue is GR. I just don't understand why people are so keen to clog ELU up with questions that imho would be better suited to English Language Learners Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 14:41
  • By “most everyone,” I meant the vast majority of people commenting on the original question, including the folks who closed it as general reference. Personally I think it's exactly the kind of question discussed in “Basic questions are not so basic” above. I also think it's similar to the current question about Take 5, which appears superficially to be a general reference (and I voted to close it myself), but actually has more depth to it if you look past the one part of the question that is possible to answer by general reference. Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 14:44
  • @Bradd: But your answer to the closed question is mainly concerned with "compound" subject nouns, where plurality normally agrees with the last element (even if that's singular, but preceded by a plural element). For example, I accept there's scope on ELU for discussing whether the subject in forms like "I don't know whether my children or my wife is/are more important to me" should always be treated as singular. Usually it is, but I've no doubt there are closely related constructions where plural might reasonably be used. Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 15:08
  • My own answer was basically speculation, because I couldn't find another applicable rule other than just "one is weird that way," and I was trying to find some rhyme or reason to it. Also, I was not trying to make it about compound subjects, but merely noun phrases that mean the same thing. At least one means the same thing as some, but one is singular and the other is plural. Why? I don't actually know the answer to that, but apparently 7 other people (including the OP) thought my guess was good enough. Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 15:10
  • @Bradd: Doesn't seem "weird" to me - by definition, one is singular, and that doesn't change if you precede it by at least. But I can't deny things do get a bit more vague when it's more than one Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 15:18
  • Oh, that's an interesting example that I hadn't thought of. Honestly, I'm beginning to think that the correct answer is that one is idiomatically always singular, regardless of the meaning of the noun phrase – something that is not true for other nouns. And it's the “not true for other nouns” that makes me think this question is not as basic as it seems (unless you know of a general reference that covers this idiomatic use of one – I couldn't find one, even though I suspected that it existed). Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 15:26
  • @Bradd: If you can come up with some examples of other (superficially singular) nouns that are sometimes treated as plural, perhaps that would make an interesting question. Certainly after all this discussion here I doubt that I would be likely to closevote it as GR! :) Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 15:51
  • Well there's the practice of using singular nouns like government and band with plural verbs in some circumstances. I don't really get the subtleties of that one as its not part of my native dialect, but it seems to be a similar sort of number confusion. Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 19:22
  • @Bradd: The plurality/singularity of words like government, band, family, company represent something of a UK/US split. Brits often tend to see them as plural on semantic grounds (they represent a group of people who are doing something). Americans usually stick more rigidly to the grammatical justification (it's a group, that is doing something). I'm happy with both, and will vary my usage according to the exact context. Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 20:38

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