Do you feel that questions that begin with Is or Can are generally poor questions? I'm tempted to downvote them in general, but rather now I'm attempting to edit the questions to not be Yes/No.

If the intent of the SE is to provide information, Yes/No questions (Is, Can) should be changed to something (Who, What, When, Where, Why, Which, How) to elicit better answers.


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    If what you mean is that "Can I write [blah]?" and "Is [blah] valid?" are generally poor quality, I couldn't agree more. But the way to deal with them isn't rephrasing as "When can I write [blah]?", "Why/How is [blah] valid?". That presupposes the OP doesn't actually know what forms native speakers use, but seeks deeper analysis. In practice, "Is/Can" questions are often a bad fit for this site because the OP doesn't know normal/standard English usage - they should be asking on ELL, not ELU. Oct 11 '14 at 18:01
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    Virtually all questions here are poor questions. If they knew how to talk about English or English grammar, they wouldn't be asking their questions. Correct their syntax if you like, but a blanket syntactic prohibition on questions seems at least misguided, if not downright counterproductive. Most questions start with an auxiliary, and can and will are common auxiliaries. Oct 12 '14 at 15:07

Examples, examples, examples. We all can come up with any number of perfectly on-topic questions beginning with either word at a moment's notice. A single word alone does not determine whether a question is on-topic or not, be it the first word in the title or any other word.

In fact, after just a quick check, 4 of the top 30 questions of my own begin with "is", and 6 of my top 30 answers are to questions that do likewise. That's 13% and 20%, respectively.

Nine out of these ten questions are open, and have 222 upvotes between them to boot. The top answers have 347 upvotes between them.

Similarly, 8 of the top 50 questions ever asked, or 16%, begin with "is", with hundreds upon hundreds upvotes between them:

And that's just a quick look at is. I am confident we can compile similar stats for questions beginning with can. Or do, which you haven't considered. (In fact, the two top answers on this site are both to questions beginning with do: Do most languages need more space than English and did English ever have a formal version of “you”.)

There is no denying some of these are MultiCollider bikeshedding flukes. But others are just as undeniably among the best this site has ever produced.

Most importantly, exactly none of these have received a simple yes/no answer, or would have been done justice receiving one and leaving it at that.

All that said, certain things — like not being able to spell "English" correctly on a site all about English, or titling your question "is this grammer??!!1" —, are certainly better indicators for poor or off-topic questions than others. But remember that even the poorest of questions can be saved by a great answer, possibly accompanied by an edit. And that's no hippie talk, that stuff actually happens. Indeed, the most recently introduced Explainer, Refiner, and Illuminator badges are right up that alley.

Conversely, there's no shame in admitting the greatest of questions can be shot down by a bunch of poor half-assed one-liners.

Anyway, I'd like to end this by saying that it'd be a nice, but fully surmountable, challenge, to edit every on-topic question on every SE site to begin with, end with, or include any word of your choosing. One word does not a swallow make. Don't get obsessed about symptoms, go after the malady.

  • Is it X or Y makes sense as a valid question. *Is there ... * does not, and whether people upvote them or not, the question as stated can objectively only be answered with a yes or no, even if it is accepted with something else.
    – SrJoven
    Oct 11 '14 at 23:38
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    I wouldn't mind outlawing single-word requests, which are almost always frivolous and/or totally clueless. Plus, English doesn't have that many single words for multiply-complex situations, and if it did, nobody would know it anyway. Oct 12 '14 at 15:09
  • @JohnLawler That's what I think, too. The fact that random single word request is made is trivially useful in general for that reason. If the author/speaker doesn't know it, would his audience know it? Probably not.
    – SrJoven
    Oct 13 '14 at 11:41

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