I've seen a number of questions (including one of mine) receive comments along the lines of "this would be a more appropriate question for the English Language Learners (ELL) site". While I understand that this site is trying to maintain an academic bent, I find this comment to be more than a little off-putting given that the byline for the ELL site is "Q&A for speakers of other languages learning English". Shouldn't ELU be the place for native English speakers who are non-academics, but who care about the language, to ask more routine questions?

I know that this is a FAQ and I've looked at the other older discussions. It seems like the continuing comments to peoples' questions and the ELL description don't fit with each other.

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    I see the problem. Based on the history of ELL's creation, its byline should be changed into "Q&A for learning English". Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 18:49
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    I don't think ELU is putting out better information than this site, and I wouldn't recommend anybody to go there. Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 4:25

5 Answers 5


I'm one of the folks leaving a lot of those comments. I don't mean for them to be off-putting.

Fact is, there are millions of people on the planet who are trying to improve their English. Many of them stumble onto ELU, see it as a godsend, and end up asking a “good” question on the “wrong” Stack Exchange. Here's my guess: if those new users were aware of both sites – if they understood the goals and knew the targeted audiences of each – they would have asked on ELL instead of ELU. The comments you have seen are intended to increase awareness of the coexistence of both sites.

Plenty of questions are trivial to for a native but perplexing to a novice. Many ELUers worked hard to create a site where such questions would be welcomed, instead of being closed, downvoted, or met with frustrated disdain. That site is now active, but ELU still gets questions every week from those who should probably be taking advantage of the new sister site.

When I see a question from a relatively new ELU member with no ELL account, where it looks like they've struggled to put a relatively straightforward question into grammatical English, I don't see any harm in letting those users know there's a place where they might want to ask their next question, as well as investigate what other questions are being asked over there.


This has been quite a heated discussion at a time.

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and __serious__ English language enthusiasts.

The "Study of language" twist of the site has been a controversy for many years now, and yes, the community of the site has deemed that it is not for people who merely "care about language". Back before ELL came to be, the questions that didn't fit the frame of "academic study of English" were closed, to huge ire and frustration of the askers. There was no day when someone wouldn't complain, but the core crew of the site pointed to the description and remained unphased.

The inception of ELL is the result of frustration of many with the politics of English.SE. If other branches of English learners were not included in the site description, then it's an omission. I did ask about this on Area51 and my plea received a slew of upvotes: that ELL is a site for English Learners and Users as opposed to people for whom it's Academic interest. It seems though that it was a subject to be "followed up at a later phase of the site's beta" that somehow slipped everyone's mind. Why it isn't a part of its description, I do not know - but at that proposed split of scopes English.SE is right to redirect you to ELL. It's ELL's description that is lacking.

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    Ok - so do I have to be a professional (meaning paid) English tutor, teacher, editor, writer, or translator - or I have to have a masters degree or higher in some derivative of an English major - to post here. Yes or No ? Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 2:50
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    @HowardPautz: No,you don't need any of that, moreover quite a few of these don't fit. You need to be interested in more than speaking and writing fluently, using the language correctly and having a rich vocabulary. You should be interested in etymology, lexical analysis, historical grammar, geolinguistics, or any of dozens subjects that are of no use to mere English user. I still come here to ask question on archaisms and grammar constructs that fell out of use. ELL tells you how to use correct English. ELU picks the language apart and tells you "Why".
    – SF.
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 6:06
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    @Howard - No, you don't need a degree in linguistics to post on ELU. However, when I find myself answering a question by using skills I learned in English classes – analyzing context, parsing sentences, examining sentence structure – there's a good chance it's a pretty good ELU question. A good ELL question might require a bit of that as well; I don't think that's the litmus test. It's hard to capture, but I'd say that, in an ideal ELU question, the OP is confused in spite of their English background; in an ELL question, the OP is confused primarily due to a limited English background.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 8:57
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    (con't) I don't think that quite nails it entirely, either, but that was the best I could do in 600 characters or less.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 9:00
  • @SF. and @ J.R. OK I'll post this as a comment here, because if I did so on any of stack's meta sites, the question would be put in a handbasket and launched rapidly downward :-O ... This is not a knock: Stack sites are proliferating, causing somewhat arbitrary boundary-line problems. A good example of 'what's hard to capture' would be a is-this-correct-usage question on ELL about a colloquialism. You could just reply "yes, that's what we say," but that does not help the OP learn. You have to go into variations, roots, etc. and then you're on ELU. (continued ...) Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 15:42
  • @J.R. (...continued) That fictitious question would not likely be migrated over to ELU if it were obvious the OP were not native. But it would go from ELU to ELL if posted in ELU. However, if I as a native speaker, were to ask the same question in ELU and just phrase it so slightly differently it would stay on ELU. One example on ELL, OP said 'help me understand' "Pretty Penny" - can I say "pretty dollar" ? Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 15:46
  • (... continued sorry fat fingered the comment :) If OP had been more specific, asking 'what are the origins of 'pretty penny' " it would be more suited to ELU. Right? Understood,similar posts on the boundary's edge might seem rare, but I've been seeing a lot of them in both places. Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 15:49

This site is essentially a place where language geeks, grammar Nazis and incorrigible pedants hang out. I don't think most of us are linguists or academics and I certainly am neither. What we do share is a fascination with the English language and its many nuances and pitfalls, its quirkiness and obscure historical artifacts.

Yes, some of our higher rep users are experts and grammarians and linguists (oh my!), others are simply particularly articulate native speakers and others are actually non-natives with either a very good grasp of the language or with a very limited one but who share the same fascination with it. We even have a poster boy, a user who is clearly not native but who has an impressive ability to find odd gems and idioms that we enjoy mulling over as much as he does.

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    I don't think this is the correct approach. ELL is for people learning or teaching English, i.e. people who approach English from a foreign-language perspective. That's a completely different ballgame than "common knowledge to a native speaker". (Besides, is there really any such thing as common knowledge? We all make assumptions, yes, but we're not always right, even if English is the only language we've ever known.)
    – Marthaª
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 3:31
  • @Marthaª I must have expressed myself badly. I was thinking of questions like "Should I say I run fast or I running fast and the like. That kind of thing is certainly common knowledge to a native speaker (though likely they won't be able to tell you why). As a general rule, if I see the OP struggling to form a grammatical sentence, I will nudge them towards ELL.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 3:42
  • Common knowledge includes simple things, like "stand up a website" ;^)
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 14:38
  • @J.R. apparently not, as you saw :). Seriously though, I am referring to basic grammatical questions knowledge of which basically defines a native speaker. Still, I'll modify this answer, the basic point I wanted to make is that we're not all linguists. The rest was irrelevant really.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 14:47
  • @Marthaª this is an example of what I would call 'common knowledge', it is not a question that a native speaker would wonder about.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 17:35

One thing to avoid: do not vote to close a question at ELU merely because it is on topic at ELL or "too simple". ELU is a fine place for a simple question, provided that it is well researched and thought out and interesting to experts in the English language.

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    On the flip side, we also get complex and interesting questions on ELL—they're just ones that come from people learning English as a foreign language. And we like well-researched and thought out questions too :) (I agree with everything you said, just also adding a bit more. +1!)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 2:10
  • Oh I see, people first must research well their question, then guess whether or not it is going to be interesting to the experts.
    – Martin F
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 6:12
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    @martinf With respect, I don't think you do see, or you wouldn't be making that snarky straw man argument.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 19:37

ELL has become a funnel through which questions that some ELU users find not to be germane to their interests are gotten rid of, despite that many of such questions are well within the described parameters for ELU. It's my opinion that some members would prefer it if ELU were somewhat of an ivory tower, but others and there are many, do not feel this way. Nevertheless, it is quite easy for certain, perhaps prejudicial, members to work together and migrate posts.

But some questions clearly do not belong on ELL which is specifically set up for learners. Furthermore, questions about grammar on ELU are treated differently than those on ELL by virtue of the differences between how language instructors perceive grammar (prescirptively), and how ELU members perceive the language (in linguistics terms and descriptive grammars and to some extent what is acceptable and what is not). Instructive grammars, even for basic concepts, are notoriously inconsistent and this fact really compounds the learner's challenge. Linguistic grammar is much more consistent, particularly with regard to the basics. I strive to make any answers I provide to learners, no matter how simplified they may be, consistent with established linguistic explanations of how English actually works.

When I ask a question on ELU it is not because I lack understanding or sophistication, it is because I want a deeper understanding of the linguistic principles behind it. On ELL answers tend to be overly simple, inconsistent and from instructors and novices who do not have a very deep understanding of linguistics and they are much less helpful to me. Moreover, ELL is for learners, not for teachers, who have very different concerns from learners.

  • Hmmm, have you ever read StoneyB's answers on EL&U and on ELL with his 161,000 rep? Read the canonical posts and then tell me they are overly simplistic. I think you would do better to pass judgements based on facts not on first impressions.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 9:51
  • Or try again with @TRomano peruse through his answers and tell me he doesn't have a deep understanding of the English language.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 9:54
  • @FumbleFingers is a British English speaker, he is active on both sites, as is the linguist Araucaria. Do you still consider ELL to be inferior?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 9:57
  • The user @Clare, an American speaker, is a relative newcomer but she (or they) is as good as they come. Her explanations and her understanding of syntax are among the best. P.S. Clare and I don't see eye to eye, but I recognise her expertise.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 10:03
  • If you want to migrate your question back to EL&U you can flag it to the mods, in need of moderator intervention and ask for it to be transferred. But if I were you, I'd leave it on ELL, it's in safe and very capable hands.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 10:06
  • @Mari-Lou A: Perhaps I should give ELL more of my attention. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 13:28

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