Is it OK to ask about Early Modern English, like Shakespeare's or Milton's? I ask this because some people seem to think asking about them is off-topic.

  • 3
    Could you add a couple of references to questions which have been closed as off-topic? It's almost certainly the questions which are off-topic rather than the subject matter.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 5:56
  • @AndrewLeach I think my question is clear. This is not a personal question. Whether my questions which were closed are off-topic or not is besides the point. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 9:01
  • @Andrew: OP is probably (at least partly) referring to Antecedent of “whose common theme is death of fathers” in Hamlet, where I have expressed the view that micro-analysis of syntax in such a context is of limited relevance to English "in the round". I haven't said the question is Off Topic, specifically because it doesn't seem to me OP is asking for help with the meaning of a "literary" text. But obviously I couldn't force anyone else to be interested in the question, even if I wanted to. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 15:39
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers You are obviously discouraging me to post such an question. Would you please leave me alone? Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 6:58
  • 4
    I specifically made the point here that I did not closevote your question - I posted an "answer" in a comment, and tried to explain why it might have received so little endorsement from others. I'm sorry if my comments come across as a personal attack. That wasn't my intention - I was simply responding (on your behalf, as I saw it) to Andrew's request for references. Whatever - if you don't appreciate my contributions, I'll leave you to thrash this one out with other users. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 14:18
  • 5
    Once again you take someone’s very specifically applied words and twist them into something they were never meant to say in order to perceive it as a kind of personal attack on you. I have never seen anyone on ELU claim or even appear to be of the opinion that questions about archaic or Shakespearean English are not okay here. As Andrew said (once again, in general tones—only you chose to make it personal and about you or your questions), if a question about archaic English is considered off-topic by some, it is because of the question, not because it’s about archaic English. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 22:07
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet You seem to misunderstand. I never said this question was motivated only by FumbleFingers' comment. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 22:56
  • @FumbleFingers This question was not motivated by your comment alone. Please don't take this question as a personal attack. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 22:58
  • @RegDwight Shakespeare's English is not Old English nor Middle English. Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 23:19

1 Answer 1


Subjects which are on-topic are listed in the Help text.

The English Language and Usage Stack Exchange is for linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts. Questions on the following topics are welcomed here:

  • Word choice and usage
  • Grammar
  • Etymology (history of words’ development)
  • Dialect differences
  • Pronunciation (phonetics and phonology, dialectology)
  • Spelling and punctuation

There's even an tag:

Archaic or obsolete vocabulary and grammar.

And a tag, although that has no description.

What is off-topic when asking about Shakespeare or Milton (or the King James Bible, or Chaucer, or Beowulf) is anything which smacks of analysis of the literature rather than its language, or which is simply translation into present-day English.

But please, don’t ask any questions about the following topics. They are out of scope for this site.

  • Translation and non-English languages
  • Criticism, discussion, and analysis of English literature

Asking about Prospero's role in the narrative of The Tempest is definitely off-topic because that literary analysis/criticism. But it's fine to ask about how a particular verb conjugates in Early Modern English, or what a petard was and how one might be hoisted by it, or how one of Chaucer's weak nouns declines, or even what an "iambic pentameter" is, although that last one might be General Reference. Asking what a particular phrase means is moving towards off-topic, either as translation or as General Reference if it can be dissected easily.

Although on-topic/off-topic is a binary decision, members of the community might draw the dividing line in different places, which means that there may be questions which some might answer and others might vote to close. The key thing is to keep a question on-topic by asking about the six topics which are welcomed and avoiding anything which could be deemed out of scope.

  • 6
    There's an implicit assumption that Shakespeare is less 'English Language and Usage' than yesterday's headline, which I find worrying. Translation is certainly bad, but "How would you phrase this Shakespeare line in modern English?" is no more translation than "How would you phrase this Maureen Dowd line in formal English?" Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 22:32

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