What is an opinion-based question and why should it be closed?

If this site were about physics or mathematics, I could understand why such questions should be closed. However, this site is about the English language which is far from being an exact science.

I suspect questions that are closed for being POB is often an excuse for reasons, which the close-voters don't want to reveal.

For example, I think the following questions are opinion-based, but they were highly upvoted.

Is there a correct gender-neutral singular pronoun ("his" vs. "her" vs. "their")?

What is the accepted stance on using "they" in a singular form?

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    possible duplicate of What the "primarily opinion-based" close reason is for
    – Kevin
    Jan 8, 2015 at 16:52
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    When choosing between a conspiracy theory and simple human error, prefer human error.
    – user63230
    Jan 9, 2015 at 3:15
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    An opinion based question would be something on the lines of 1) Do you think God is gender neutral? 2) Why is the pronoun "he" and not "they" used for God? 3) Is the term God archaic and misused nowadays? etc. There is no "right" answer for these type of questions, the resulting answers will be based on opinions and personal convictions. The questions you have quoted were asked nearly five years ago, perhaps today they would be closed for being general reference
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 9, 2015 at 6:38
  • @Mari-LouA Are you saying that every single question that involves opinions should be closed? Jan 9, 2015 at 7:16
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    Since there is no Academy to legislate on what is 'correct', it could be argued that all answers are going to be POB (we slap the term onto the question, of course). But with many, there will be broad agreement about correctness or otherwise amongst many respected anglophones. Again, there is no body set up to decide when this becomes sufficient to make a word or construct 'acceptable'. On ELU, the policing body deciding on 'overly-opinion-basedness' is the community. As with all democracies, it's imperfect. But better than almost all dictatorships. Jan 9, 2015 at 23:30
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    @andy256 It needs only five votes to close any question. If you think there's no bullying in this site, perhaps you live in a different world. Jan 10, 2015 at 1:17
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    @EdwinAshworth "On ELU, the policing body deciding on 'overly-opinion-basedness' is the community." This is not necessarily true. It only needs five votes to close any question. Jan 10, 2015 at 4:59
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    OK, I was using synecdoche. As I said, there's no such thing as a perfect human organisation. Are you suggesting that there be no control over questions like 'What's the best single word to describe the films of Hitchcock?' 'What's a colour between taupe and 'harvest beige'?'? Or do you have a suggestion for a better POB definition? Nohat and Joshua Karstendick give fine referenced answers to the questions you see as POB candidates. Pointing out (with evidences) that opinions are divided amongst Anglophones in general is not at all the same as a bunfight here, squabbling over pet dislikes. Jan 10, 2015 at 11:06
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    @ivanhoescott Yes, perhaps I do live in a different world. In my world, bullies can only bully me if I let them. I don't.
    – user63230
    Jan 10, 2015 at 11:15
  • @EdwinAshworth You seem to miss my point. I'm not saying that a question like 'What's the best single word to describe the films of Hitchcock?' should not be closed. I'm saying that most questions on the English language is more or less opinion-based so that it's wrong to close a question just because it involves opinions. In short, don't abuse the POB reason. Jan 12, 2015 at 11:55
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    I disagree that the two questions you specify should have been closed as POB. While opinions were obviously involved more than in some other cases in arriving at conclusions on the acceptability of singular they say, opinions were researched and presented in a balanced way. POB here means 'answers are almost certainly going to merely express answerers' preferences, perhaps even stated as though they were indisputably and uniquely correct'. Not 'answers may well express different viewpoints here, hopefully each with good supportive arguments and references'. Jan 12, 2015 at 12:22

1 Answer 1


An opinion-based question is one that cannot be authoritatively answered based upon standardized sourced material.

It should be closed because it cannot be authoritatively answered based upon standardized sourced material.

This StackExchange is designed to have questions answered by experts who, in theory and practice, know about which they write.

As an example question that might be rejected as opinion based in Mathematics:

Is 1 plus 1 really 2? What is the acceptance stance for it being 3?

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    Actually your example is a very valid question which math.SE addresses in 485 different posts: Math.SE posts tagged elementary-number-theory, mentioning addition. The equivalent situation on Math.SE (equivalent to what's happening here on ELU) would be if some users refused to allow other users to ask and answer any maths question for which the answers could be found in a maths textbook.
    – A E
    Jan 9, 2015 at 17:43
  • @AE fair. but even so, the OP says that all questions answerable in a text book are fair game, so why can't this site be a lazy man's dictionary?
    – SrJoven
    Jan 9, 2015 at 17:50
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    One issue is that some users (e.g. me) are willing to sometimes look up and explain things from an etymological dictionary - or a selection of dictionaries - for users who don't have access to a good one or don't know how to use it - or maybe people who don't even know what an etymological dictionary is. If other users don't want to answer that kind of question then that's absolutely AOK with me - but I don't see why they should prevent those of us who are willing from answering.
    – A E
    Jan 9, 2015 at 17:53
  • @AE: "Primarily opinion-based" is a different close reason from "off-topic". Your point might be a good meta question in its own right (or it might be a duplicate; hard to tell at this stage), but it is not relevant to this question. Jan 9, 2015 at 23:15
  • @TimLymington, I was answering SJ's question re "lazy man's dictionary". Re POB as a close reason, I agree with OP's "My suspicion is questions that are closed for being POB is often an excuse for reasons which the close-voters don't want to reveal." Some users simply seem to get an ego-boost from victimising newbies. I think we should welcome them instead.
    – A E
    Jan 9, 2015 at 23:28
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    'An opinion-based question is one that cannot be authoritatively answered based upon standardized sourced material ...' is only a workable definition if there are agreed authorities to pronounce on questions of language, and universal standards. They would be? Jan 12, 2015 at 16:59
  • @EdwinAshworth if the texts referenced in GR are not sufficient to answer your question, then POB applies to any question herein, therefore POB should not be a close reason.
    – SrJoven
    Jan 12, 2015 at 21:23
  • I'm saying that 'An opinion-based question is one that cannot be authoritatively answered based upon standardized sourced material.' would be better written "What we here term 'an opinion-based question' is one that cannot be answered to a standard here considered acceptable as shown by non-POB closure, based upon standardized sourced material." 'Answered authoritatively' falls down because we have to agree on which authorities are acceptable and which 'authorities' aren't, and what to do when 'authorities' disagree. Jan 12, 2015 at 23:45
  • I use answered authoritatively to mean answers as answers without hedge phrases like I think and in my opinion and maybe. Assuming this is a site where answers from experts are requested, the choosing of acceptable authorities is done by the viewers, and indicated by the vote directions.
    – SrJoven
    Jan 13, 2015 at 13:40

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