re the 'off-topic' reasoning:

isn't the spirit of the site ruling that 'questions can be answered unequivocally using commonly-available references'? In the recent Plural or Belonging to thread (put on hold), I maintain that confusion arises because different 'commonly-available references' adopt different viewpoints. Now these different views probably ought to have been mentioned by OP, and have at least in part been addressed already - though not for this particular example.

I quote a previous thread: . . .In such case, the questioner is confused by the reference work; we should seek to clarify the reference work.

  • I think can be unequivocally answered elsewhere is neither implied nor necessary in the Off Topic definition. I seem to be in the minority, but I've no problem closevoting, for example, questions asking about the etymology of some word/expression where different reference sources disagree. In cases where the one-and-only correct answer just nets down to "It's unknown", I think closevoting as POB is often perfectly reasonable. Oct 7, 2013 at 15:59
  • 1
    But in the thread in question, the answer offered before the closevote took effect (and which I've seen in grammars) was contrary to modern usage - by Educational Departments. How can that possibly be interpreted as a 'question that can easily be answered by using commonly-available references'? Oct 7, 2013 at 16:33
  • 2
    "Can be unequivocally answered elsewhere" is a predicate phrase that can't be predicated of grammar questions. That's the ELU/ELL problem, in a nutshell. There's just too much hallowed bullshit out there, all unequivocal and all contradictory. Oct 7, 2013 at 18:19
  • The question was not a good question; as it stood (stands) my comment is perfectly adequate. If you edit your commentary with context into the question it might get re-opened (although it will probably get closed as a duplicate -- there are a couple about childrens books, I think).
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Oct 8, 2013 at 7:32
  • @Andrew Leach: I'm sorry – I can't accept your statements in the original thread that "Normal possessive apostrophe rules apply" and ". . . it's Academies' Trust". Looking at the formats chosen by the bodies themselves shows that they (at least the ones mentioned in the Guardian article) don't use the apostrophe. Which makes the close reason wrong. Oct 8, 2013 at 21:54
  • @EdwinAshworth What "Guardian article"? There is still no context in the question, and my comment is perfectly valid for the question as it stands. Improve the question, if you know the context.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Oct 9, 2013 at 9:35

1 Answer 1


You may be right about the OP's 'real' question, or you may not. Either way, the question needs editing.

It could say "Merriam-Webster says this, but Collins says, on the contrary, that"; which may be a fair SE question, but not one that can be guessed from the original. Close it and let OP ask what he really wants to know. ("May be" because I would hazard a guess that there is no word for which two apparently contradictory definitions cannot be found by mischievous or uncomprehending enquirers. Usually the problem vanishes on close inspection by native speakers.)

It could say "There appear to be two schools of thought on this grammar point; which is right?" Definitely not a question we want here; almost the definition of primarily opinion-based.

Or it could say "I don't understand how you form the possessive of a plural". There are so many duplicate questions already it wouldn't last five minutes; and more to the point, it would be bad for the site and bad for the questioner for us to explain a basic point that shouldn't be studied in isolation.

It is definitely not "up to us to clarify the reference work"; it is up to us to answer the question asked.

(I also agree with John Lawler that unequivocal referring to a source more usually means 'vociferous' than 'supported by evidence', let alone 'undeniable'. That's a more general point, though.)

  • 2
    "Definitely not a question we want here; almost the definition of primarily opinion-based." What? It's not hard to imagine a case where there are two schools of thought, but one can be shown with evidence to be correct. And if both points of view can be supported with evidence, then that's a valid answer too, isn't it?
    – user28567
    Oct 8, 2013 at 0:48
  • 1
    @snailboat; No, you really can't use evidence to show that the opinion of a native English-speaker (let alone an authority) on a point of language is 'wrong'. Localised, rare, etymologically unsound perhaps; but we all use such words sometimes, deliberately or otherwise. And the reason why POB is a close reason is not that there are no valid answers, but that there are too many; the question will end up with a score of equally useful (or useless) answers, one of which may help OP, but none of which fit properly on a Stack Exchange site. Oct 8, 2013 at 11:20
  • 1
    @Tim: stuff and nonsense. Be descriptivist all you want, but there is still such a thing as right and wrong, and native speakers can be wrong.
    – Marthaª
    Oct 8, 2013 at 17:25
  • @TimLymington What I mean to say is, a grammatical description can certainly be wrong. You can show which description fits the evidence by consulting corpora to see what people actually say, or by seeing whether acceptability/grammaticality judgments given by native speakers consistently line up with what the description predicts, or in other evidence-based ways. Grammatical descriptions aren't just opinion; they can be shown to be correct or incorrect. (And what's more, language can change, so descriptions that were once correct can become incorrect. This, too, is useful to know.)
    – user28567
    Oct 8, 2013 at 19:17
  • @snailboat 'Grammatical descriptions aren't just opinion; they can be shown to be correct or incorrect.' I assume this means all grammatical descriptions – that's what this construction is usually taken to mean, though it is ambiguous. In which case one has to ask the questions 'Why is there more than one grammar?' and 'When is someone going to tell us which grammar (book) is the one showing all the correct 'descriptions?' Oct 8, 2013 at 21:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .