'Is . . . grammatically correct?' or a variant is a commonly asked question on the site.

Though most people seeking to give a reasonable response often give answers such as 'This is not a question of correct or incorrect grammar. . .' and go on to address relevant issues such as frequency of use, sensibleness, clarity / ambiguity, likelihood to offend ... the fact remains that they/we are selecting the more rigorous of the common senses for (un)grammatical(lity) etc:

AHD does not give the broader sense:

gram·mat·i·cal ... adj. 1. Of or relating to grammar. 2. Conforming to the rules of grammar: a grammatical sentence.

RHK Webster's allows the broader, perhaps generally perceived sense:

  1. of or pertaining to grammar.
  2. conforming to the rules of grammar or standard usage

(bolding mine)

As this difference in terminology is so important on a linguistics site, perhaps there should be instructions that the term should not be used in questions, or that the term be used in just one of the two potentially conflicting ways?

  • 2
    'Giving instructions' that the concept of correctness should not be used is somewhat paradoxical. Oct 16, 2013 at 12:16
  • 1
    Perhaps there should be. I suspect it would have no more effect, however, than any other "instructions" here. Face it, new users posting here are normally pretty clueless about what grammar means, and are doing well to put together an understandable (not to say "grammatical") sentence or two. Oct 16, 2013 at 18:11
  • Is there a real problem here? I don't think anyone here is using 'grammatical' to mean 'pertaining to grammar'. They're always intending 'conforming to some standard usage'.
    – Mitch
    Oct 17, 2013 at 2:22
  • 2
    @John Lawler I am beginning to wonder what we should be doing. The site seems to be promoting two contradictory mantras. If we pose a question which solicits a discussion it quickly gets closed down. The usual reason is said to be that the site deals only with questions which have answers. That suggests there is a right and a wrong way of writing, which seems to me to run counter to the other oft-repeated notion that there is no one 'correct' form of grammar.
    – WS2
    Oct 17, 2013 at 10:29
  • @WS2: Yes, that's right. It's an attitude carried over from the other, earlier, and notably computer-related stack exchanges, which is where the software got designed, too. In those forums, there often is a correct answer, or at least a concensus emerges, or several approaches converge on a solution. This is not the case in English (or any other language) grammar. Language is much, much more complex than computer programming; and there is so much "grammar" bullshit in the system that it seems you have to spend all your energy shovelling it. Oct 17, 2013 at 16:54
  • Perhaps looking at what the other "no one correct answer"-type stack exchanges do might provide us with some clues as to how to deal with this? I know that RPG.SE, for instance, permits discussion in the form of essays in answers, but discourages discussion in the back-and-forth sense except as a way of clarifying answers and questions. Surely there must be other users of other stack exchanges who could describe those exchanges' solutions to us, as well?
    – user867
    Oct 24, 2013 at 3:41


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