I'd like to seek clarification on "English as a second language" questions. E.g.

There are lots and lots more of these, including some very basic ESL questions from learners.

Is this site actually meant for ESL questions?

  • 4
    Sidenote regarding the did-shoot/shot question: it appears that it was asked by a native speaker. Note also the "I've wondered about this too" comment by Vincent McNabb, apparently also native speaker. I'm actually surprised that native speakers shouldn't know about that, as for me (ESL speaker) that particular construct has been a clear one ever since I learned it at school.
    – Jonik
    Aug 10, 2010 at 9:04
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    For what it's worth, using do like that in the source article struck me as completely non-native.
    – Charlie
    Aug 10, 2010 at 16:21
  • @itrekkie and the source article was from a "native" magazine. Feb 20, 2011 at 11:49
  • @Jonik this ESL speaker agrees, I can't remember ever wondering about that construct. Feb 20, 2011 at 11:51
  • Nowadays, I would go to the new English Language Learners (ELL) site for ESL type questions. Unless they are of "Shakespearean" topicality. This is a pretty sophistictated site.
    – Tom Au
    May 9, 2013 at 0:26

9 Answers 9


I suspect that some of the questions will come from ESL teachers who have been challenged by that question in class ...

I think the only way forward is to let the community decide by voting for or against. Let's see what happens.


Many for whom English is a second (fourth, fifth) language, have a better understanding of its formal aspects than those who learned it informally as a native. I think attempting to distinguish between ESL askers and Native askers, or questions, is a pretty iffy business.

How about taking each question on its own merits?


After writing the comment on the question, it got me thinking about this more generally:

Suppose this site is not for ESL questions. How, then, are you actually going to discern "ESL questions" from other questions? I think it's not always clear-cut at all.

It would indeed be easy to simply look at the user who asked the question, and if English is not his/her first language, declare the question as "ESL question" and be done with it. But that would be idiotic. (If someone should disagree with this, I can add examples.)

Or should questions that are about learning English be flat-out disallowed? Well, isn't learning (more) the point of every question on a Q&A site? Disallow only questions that are somehow "too basic"? That sounds about right, but it will be difficult to draw the line, or to formulate a rule about what questions are too basic.

Perhaps it's best to leave this to the emerging community to jugde on a case-by-case basis – if a question seems inappropriately basic for this site, people will downvote it or vote to close it.

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    Would be preferable to have a clear policy rather than leaving it for everyone to randomly vote at a whim.
    – delete
    Aug 10, 2010 at 13:21
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    I was aksing myself, whether or not I should use this site, because I'm not conviced of being a serious enthusiast. Maybe a beginner tag could help to fiter questions which would annoy the experts.
    – stacker
    Aug 19, 2010 at 10:13
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    I prefer whimsy myself.
    – bev
    Nov 28, 2010 at 9:51

All English-related questions add value to this site. Remember the ultimate target of a StackExchange site is to be the one stop for all questions and answers related to the topic, feeding search engines and being the reference. So for this very reason, all beginner questions should be allowed. We have had this discussion in much more detail on StackOverflow.

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    For Stack Overflow, sure, but as this site is for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts, I'm not at all sure if all beginner questions should be allowed. Too big proportion of beginner questions might lead to the "linguists, etymologists and serious enthusiasts" leaving the site.
    – Jonik
    Sep 5, 2010 at 18:10
  • 2
    The problem with ESL questions and ESL learners is that you get a crowd of askers and a crowd of answerers without the intersection between the two which makes it interesting for both parties. See sites like lang-8.com, or try participating there, and see how much you like it - it's pretty tedious after a while.
    – delete
    Sep 5, 2010 at 18:30
  • @jonik @shinto So whats the solution? Add another stackexchange site for ESL? I believe the scope of a SE site should be broad enough to include questions related to the main topic. As long as something isnt completely off-topic, its kosher.
    – Midhat
    Sep 5, 2010 at 21:11
  • @Jonik: ESL tag or Beginner tag is the right answer. Linguists should be able to filter them out. Jun 17, 2011 at 13:51
  • @Jonik I know this is a 6 years old comment, and your views might have changed. Coming from Stack Overflow myself, I could easily make the same argument about Stack Overflow being a site for developers, software engineers, and serious Software enthusiasts, yet beginner questions are allowed, and yes, a few people have left because of this, but most of us just choose to ignore questions we aren't interested in answering.
    – ILikeTacos
    Jun 10, 2016 at 1:44

I wouldn't say English Language & Usage is not for English as a second language.

But English Language Learners definitely is for English as a second (or third, or forty second) language!


This is a very important question.

I suspect that questions by ESL askers will be less of a problem than answers.

Just for comparison, ask.antimoon.com (a defunct SE1.0 site) was for language learners, with a complete hodge-podge of questions of all types, all levels, from all first languages. It seemed completely unfocused, and probably the main problem was that most of the time it didn't seem particularly interesting for 'experts', which ran the risk of ending up with the blind leading the blind.

Ask yourselves if that's what you want for EL&U...

  • Oh, will I be disallowed from answering? Oy vey! You're welcome to downvote my answers on those grounds alone. (Yup, traces of sarcasm may be present in the preceding utterances) Feb 20, 2011 at 11:45
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    @Benjol, link seems dead (Sept 2012); can you summarize it in answer? Sep 30, 2012 at 17:00
  • @jwpat7 done...
    – Benjol
    Oct 1, 2012 at 4:37

I doubt that we can eliminate the ESL askers altogether, and I don't think that we need to. Instead, I think that this should be approached the same way as "homework" on SO: via tagging. I propose [learning] specifically for questions intended for language learners, whether first or second language. E.g., both of the following could be tagged [learning] (and I'll probably retag them after this):

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/421/how-can-i-learn-to-use-more-idioms How does one know when to use a gerund or an infinitive? Recommendations for non-native English speaking bloggers

This despite the fact that only one of those is actually from a non-native speaker.

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    it is very similar to [homework] in spirit Aug 12, 2010 at 22:08
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    The tag learning should then be used from who asks a question without to know the answer; the fact he didn't know the answer means that he is going to learn something. The purpose of the tag homework is different; we should use that tag if somebody is asking a question which is part of his homework.
    – apaderno
    Aug 30, 2010 at 4:40

None of the Stack Exchange sites makes a discrimination between those who speak English as their first language, and those who speak it as a second language; I don't see any reason why this site should do that.

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    But none of the other Stack Exchange sites are for English. The question is whether "beginner" questions devalue the site.
    – mmyers
    Sep 3, 2010 at 12:53
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    The title of the question says something else, though.
    – apaderno
    Sep 3, 2010 at 13:41
  • Whatever to consider a question from beginners, or from a user who knows what he is asking of is subjective. There are questions on Stack Overflow that somebody would judge beginner questions (questions tagged with homework probably contain a lot of beginner questions), but I have never saw any objections on meta.stackoverflow.com, so far.
    – apaderno
    Sep 3, 2010 at 13:47

I've recently joined this forum and as an ESL teacher I would like to lend my perspective to this discussion.

This forum, as far as I can see it it, is for people who are rather advanced in their consideration and use of English. I'm pretty sure that why it was created and why it continues to attract the interest of so many advanced and expert participants.

That said, we all need to ask a grammar question from time to time and as long as these are interesting questions that require some thoughtful answers, even from experts, then fine. Otherwise, more rudimentary questions can be migrated to a more appropriate site like ELL. That line isn't always clear but I trust that the people on this forum who have the power to migrate will use it judiciously.

On the other hand, questions about learning and teaching English as a second language ought to have a more robust place here. Language acquisition is an accepted field of linguistics these days, and it happens to be quite interesting.


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