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I asked this question and it was closed as off-topic. Is asking a question on English usage which is obvious for native English speakers but not so for English language learners off-topic in this site?

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Yes. There is a separate Stack Exchange site specifically for English Language Learners (here), and we try to maintain the distinction between the two. In addition, as the explanatory text says, a question that can be answered by consulting a general reference such as a dictionary is out of place here. It is true that many such answers can only be found if you know where to look; but in this case you had already been given the two phrases 'matchbox' and 'box of matches' which are quite easy to look up.

  • But it's beta, which means, I think, that it is not fully functional. – ivanhoescott Mar 22 '14 at 23:55
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    @ivanhoescott That's not what beta means here (see area51.stackexchange.com/faq). And please note that you will fit in at StackExchange much better if you make more of an effort to read, research, and participate in things yourself, rather than asking people to confirm everything and explain it to you. – Bradd Szonye Mar 23 '14 at 0:13
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    @ivanhoescott Plus if it is the best place for you to get answers, why wouldn't you want to support it in getting out of beta? – nxx Mar 23 '14 at 1:56
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    [but in this case you had already been given the two phrases 'matchbox' and 'box of matches' which are quite easy to look up.] I'm asking if the sentence "This box of matches is empty" is correct or not. I'm afraid I don't know where I look up to find an answer to this question except Q&A sites like this one. Could you tell me where I can look up? – ivanhoescott Mar 23 '14 at 5:03
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    @ivanhoescott If the phrase maybe you should post this on English Language Learners keeps coming up . . . Maybe that would be a place? – David M Mar 26 '14 at 0:13
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If you ask a question (as too many people do) about "which is correct", then, yes.
That's not what we're here for.

If, on the other hand, you ask something that is about English Language and Usage, then you may rest assured that it is not "obvious for native English speakers". This is because native English speakers who are educated in Anglophone schools are not taught about English grammar. Instead they are fed a bunch of mythology about tenses and cases and correctness and not writing like you talk.

This means that pretty much any native English speaker is the wrong person to ask about English grammar, because they never learned grammar in school -- though they speak English, of course. Thus they have a lot of quaint ideas about it, none of which are true or helpful, but all of which are firmly believed.

I have seen no real difference between the two groups; both are staffed by volunteers, and many volunteers have the idea that English grammar is a matter of opinion or of law. Both ideas are false.

  • How is this not a site to ask if something is correct or not? Maybe more appropriate for ELL. But still. – Mitch Mar 23 '14 at 2:27
  • In my experience, students in English (not ESL) classes are taught some very basic grammatical terminology in order to facilitate the discussion of what they read and themselves must write, how to identify and avoid fragments and run-ons, how to use apostrophes correctly, that unprincipled tense shift in summarizing stories or poems may well distract the reader, that "I'm gonna tell ya why Macbeth got topped" is inappropriate language for an academic essay. – Shoe Mar 23 '14 at 8:41
  • I regard this as helpful advice to improve student writing to the point that readers (including examiners) can focus on their ideas and are not distracted by problems of grammar or style. I would not write off such advice as being based on myths. – Shoe Mar 23 '14 at 8:41
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    @Mitch In principle, “Is this correct?” could be on-topic, but in practice such questions are often either peeves, proofreading, general reference, or rooted in false assumptions (like prescriptivist hearsay). Based on the editing history in the linked question, this one is a peeve. Possibly even a peeve layered on top of somebody else's peeve. – Bradd Szonye Mar 25 '14 at 0:06
  • @BraddSzonye: I didn't see the peeing at all. It's a legitimate question, with the expectation of the answer being in one direction. – Mitch Mar 25 '14 at 1:08
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    @Mitch It's not clear to me whether the poster is even representing his original source accurately. It's difficult to communicate with the poster at all, because he responds to almost everything with variations on “OK, but why was my question closed?” (Ironically, even now that it has been re-opened.) – Bradd Szonye Mar 25 '14 at 1:43
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    @Mitch: If somebody gives us several sentences and asks which is correct, (a) they need opinions from native speakers, (b) they probly have the wrong idea about what, if anything, is problematic. We currently do not restrict answers to native speakers; in fact, we currently allow anyone with an opinion to weigh in with it, whatever it is and wherever they learned it. The result is as you see. – John Lawler Mar 25 '14 at 1:58

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