Is [acceptability] a meta-tag?

I decided to remove 44 instances of the tag. I more or less stand behind this decision, though I do acknowledge that there are deeper issues we need to look at before proceeding, and has a specific meaning:


To talk about "correctness" in language implies that there is some abstract, absolute standard by which words and grammar can be judged; something is either "correct" or "incorrect" -- and that's all there is to that. But the facts of language are not so clean-cut. Instead, many students of usage today prefer to talk about acceptability, that is, the degree to which users of a language will judge an expression as OK will let is use pass without noticing anything out of the ordinary. An acceptable expression is one that people do not object to, indeed do not even notice unless it is called to their attention.

Acceptability is not an absolute, but is a matter of degree; one expression may be judged more or less acceptable than another. "If I were in your shoes" may be judgled more acceptable than "If I was in your shoes," but both are considerably more acceptable than "If we was in your shoes." Moreover, acceptability is not abstract, but is related to some group of people whose response it reflects. Thus most Americans pronounce the past-tense verb ate like eight and regard any other pronunciation as unacceptable. Many Britons, on the other hand, pronounce it as "ett" and find the American preference less acceptable. Acceptability is part of the convention of language use; in talking about it, we must always keep in mind "How acceptable?" and "To whom?"

There are ~600 instances of the tag which I think has an identical meaning as .

So then two questions:

  1. Are either of these tags useful on questions?
  2. In what circumstances are they useful? (provide example of specific questions, please)

2 Answers 2


I move that be restored and renamed to . Also, many questions in should probably be re-tagged , though not all. The tag should be reserved for questions whose main thrust is a query about whether some word or phrase (or group of words or phrases) are grammatical/acceptable. Questions in which grammaticality of some usage is only tangentially relevant do not need this tag. Once questions of grammaticality are removed from , then I think at that point would be a good time to revisit whether is actually meaningful. (I think my hunch that it’s not from this previous discussion of is right, and “Ex-User’s” answer there is actually quite incisive.)

When it comes to how to answer questions about grammaticality/acceptability, I think, in general, if a question asks if a particular usage is acceptable in a certain context, that question is too specific and localized to be interesting enough to answer narrowly. However, I don't think such questions should be closed. Rather, the answers should address grammaticality/acceptability of the questioned usage in all contexts, including the one asked about, and (optionally, though preferably) the question should be edited to reflect a query about grammaticality/acceptability in a broader range of contexts.

Here are some questions that I think would benefit from being tagged :

In each of the above questions, there are answers (usually mine—I picked them because I was already familiar with them) that address the grammaticality of a usage in different contexts.

For comparison, here are some questions currently tagged that have nothing to do with :


I think usage is acceptable as a tag simply to differentiate between other kinds of questions (spelling, punctuation, grammar). While the distinction can get blurry, I think the fact that this site is called "English & Usage" suggests that is creating a compartmentalization that includes Usage as something separate from English in general. Questions about grammar, structure, syntax, etymology, terminology — all those fall under the rubric of English; other questions involve how words and phrases are used in common situations, and so I think usage is just fine for those.

I don't think acceptability is a useful tag as it is hopelessly subjective (and in a sense argumentative). Usage at least refers to something that can be measured, statistically analyzed, whatever.

  • I've been in quite a discussion with a user who wishes to champion the grammaticality / acceptability dichotomy position some grammarians have adopted. They (singular) seem to think that there is a canon of grammatical structures accepted by all authorities, and that it is nigh-on immutable. Is it necessary to spell out more completely how the tag 'grammaticality' is to be used on ELU? Dec 14, 2014 at 23:16

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