I'm an earnest new user here at EL&U. I'm enjoying the site very much, and I'd like to make useful contributions.

I'm perplexed as to why someone downvoted this Answer that I wrote the other day. Whoever downvoted it left no comment to explain why. Did I do something wrong? Sage advice appreciated, as always.

  • 7
    Maybe my downvote on your earlier meta question wasn't justified, but I don't really think we want to litter up ELU meta with a post every time someone anonymously downvotes an answer. Whoever did it is unlikely to step forward and explain themselves, and how do the rest of us know what they were thinking? The "sage advice" is don't take too much notice of the odd anonymous downvote. Feb 10, 2015 at 20:24
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: Well, of course no one but the downvoter can be certain what they had in mind, but I'm just looking for some guidance here—second opinions, if you will. Either something was wrong enough to be evident to more than one person, or others upon review find nothing wrong and I can be assured that the downvoter was an outlier. It's only because this particular downvote so surprised me that I bothered to ask here.
    – jdmc
    Feb 10, 2015 at 20:55
  • 2
    Not all down voters are cowards, nor are they mean. Please see How to guarantee getting downvotes without explanation. Many here believe comments do not belong with downvotes. And, no, you cannot assume the down voter was an outlier. You can assume that a lot of people here don't frequently employ down votes, though, so many of us don't get all the down votes we deserve. We don't ask for explanations of up votes. Learn to let it roll off your back; if it happens a lot, look at how your answers differ from well received answers. Feb 11, 2015 at 5:36
  • I'm perplexed too. It's not a bad question or obviously wrong. I can only think that people just disagree with the answer(and a single -1 encouraged others)
    – Mitch
    Feb 13, 2015 at 20:27
  • Good edit title! Unfortunately I cannot upvote twice.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 17, 2015 at 11:02
  • Advice? Get over yourself. It's just not that important.
    – Robusto
    Feb 17, 2015 at 16:43

2 Answers 2


I'm not the downvoter, but I will wager a guess that perhaps they felt that your answer was too brief and didn't provide any background or explanation, particularly when compared with CopperKettle's answer (which was posted half an hour before yours). Yours basically just asserts "Yes, it's grammatical and common"; the other goes into detail about what it is (with citations), when it is used, and how to interpret it.

Generally speaking, the more explanation and research you can put into your answer, the more likely it is to be well-received. There is also a "first-mover advantage", of course, but longer, more detailed, better-cited answers will usually win out in the long haul; even if the original questioner was only after a yes/no answer, having a thorough answer will help everyone else who views the question.

  • 2
    OK. If that's the case, I just wonder why the downvote, as opposed to no vote at all. I thought downvotes on SE were supposed to be reserved for seriously flawed or nonsensical answers. According to the Help Center, downvotes are to be applied to "egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended" posts, or those that are "clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect."
    – jdmc
    Feb 10, 2015 at 21:34
  • 4
    @jdmc That may or may not be how downvotes are supposed to be applied in theory, but in practice they're applied much more liberally and frequently. Whether that is desirable or detrimental is a broader philosophical question, but none the less it remains a fact. People will and do downvote content they disagree with or don't like for any reason. So the "sage advice" is exactly as FumbleFingers put it: don't take downvotes too seriously.
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 10, 2015 at 22:12
  • 1
    @jdmc - I tend to cut new users some slack; learning site expectations takes time. I am not one of your down voters, but had I seen this, and you had a few thousand in rep, I might well down vote you for the reasons Hellion gave. And I can attest to all he's said: a second answer that adds nothing will get you nothing; a second answer which adds a lot will eventually win more votes. Feb 11, 2015 at 5:30

I appreciate the sincerity of your question here and of your desire to contribute useful answers to EL&U. As you note in your comment to Hellion's answer the official EL&U guideline for casting a downvote is as follows:

Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect.

Your downvoted answer, it seems to me, isn't sloppy or clearly incorrect, and it shows a reasonable amount of effort (especially in coming up with additional examples of the form that the OP is asking about). Consequently, I can see why you might have been mystified by the initial downvote.

But there is a simple explanation for why downvotes happen in instances such as the one you bring up, and it is essentially the explanation that Dan Bron gives in a comment to Hellion's answer: People who have earned the privilege of downvoting use their own criteria for exercising that privilege. A vindictive pattern of downvoting a particular other user may lead to moderator intervention, but otherwise the downvoter isn't answerable to anyone.

Though I'm not a huge fan of downvoting, it arguably serves a quality-control function when applied by voters to signal "your answer doesn't show enough effort" or "your answer doesn't add anything meaningful to what other answers have already said" or even (perhaps) "your answer may be pretty good but it doesn't deserve the number of upvotes it has received, so I'm going to cancel one of them." I think that downvoting can be counterproductive when applied by voters to signal "I don't like your tone" or "I disagree with the result you reached even though your argument is reasonable" or "I don't think you should answer questions like this one because it only encourages more people to ask them."

But if you want to improve a downvoted answer or to avoid submitting future answers with similar shortcomings, what practical information does a downvote convey? How do you know which of the reasons listed above (or not listed here) triggered a downvote if no one explains the downvote?

The answer is, you can't know. Everyone who participates in EL&U—including some participants whose deep knowledge of language and usage leaves me in awe—receives downvotes from time to time. In the big picture it doesn't matter why they happen in a particular case, as long as you made a real effort to add something of value to the discussion.

You won't run afoul of the official standards for downvotes—egregious sloppiness, absence of effort, and obvious error—if you continue to answer questions at your current level. You'll probably incur fewer downvotes if, in addition, you avoid submitting answers that don't add anything substantially new to the answers that others have already submitted, and if (when possible) you bolster your position with citations to outside authorities.

Beyond that, as others here have noted, you just have to let it go. This site isn't a free-for-all; good answers generally receive respectful attention, and more votes up than down. If you stick with it long enough to develop a sense of what voters in general are looking for, you'll be able to make a consistently positive contribution to the site—and you'll be rewarded with (mostly) upvotes.

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