This question was recently asked “She ran… , her nose pressed against the glass” Are the actions simultaneous or consecutive?. Edwin Ashworth (correctly in my opinion) asked the OP for surrounding sentences. I also asked for the source.

I have noticed many people post sentences asking if they are "correct." Sometimes they cite a source, but most of the time, the OP does not cite a source and people don't generally ask for one. Then the guessing and hypothesizing start. I've noticed in many of these questions the OP doesn't respond to requests for further information, or doesn't mark an answer as "best answer."

I feel that answering whether or not a sentence is correct or not is largely dependent on seeing where it came from. It is more likely that if the sentence came from The New York Times or The Economist or even Harry Potter it is more likely to be "correct." If not, we can see that there is a typo that clarifies things or the surrounding context helps see that the sentence is "correct" but could have / should have been written in another way, or perhaps the sentence is an example of BrE / AmE / IE, etc. Sentences that are made up or invented (in my opinion) stand a greater chance of being ungrammatical or illogical. In the example I cited above, if the OP answers, "I just made it up." then it is easy to answer by explaining "Sentences in English should have this construction..." If we don't know the source, then people need to make an assumption that it did come from a source and the answers will have a "justification" feel or will try to figure out what the original writer of the sentence meant.

I feel that we should ask for sources. If one can't be provided, I feel that is OK but it must be stated in the question that "This sentence is invented." The sentence could have been invented because the person is reading a grammar book and wants to know if their invented sentence complies with what they were learning. Answers to these kind of posts are valuable because they provide help to others who may be thinking the same thing...usually questions about certain grammar points are common. For example present perfect, semicolons, or the recent question about past progressive and the use of "when." past progressive with dependent clause -- dependent clause types in the face of ambiguity

Should we be asking for sources? Should a question be closed if, after a reasonable amount of time, the OP can't provide a source or explanation?

  • This question you posted (where Chasely from UK asks for more context) seems to have the same issue, doesn't it? The OP didn't give the source of the sentence and didn't even agreed to compose a sentence (PPP version) requested by Chasely from UK. I will not comment on the quality of your answer here.
    – user140086
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 7:45
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    One odd aspect of asking for the source of a quotation is that, if the poster replies, "I wrote it," in many cases the question will be closed as being a request for proofreading. So a request for a source is in some sense a subtle invitation to the poster to disqualify the question by identifying himself or herself as the author of the quotation. If it's bad enough, you can be pretty confident that it's the poster's own work; but if it's marginally okay (or better), I search for the source myself and add a suitable link if I can, for greater context and just to identify where it came from.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 8:33
  • I'm confused. Why would you not ask for context/full quote/source if it would help? Or are you saying just vote to close right away?
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 12:48
  • @Mitch. I have asked before...sometimes I get a reply, sometimes not. I think in the sometimes not category the question should be closed...maybe give the OP 24 hours to respond...if it's important to them, they will answer. However, as Medica pointed out this is a bit authoritarian. I just hate to see people spinning their wheels on answers. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 14:04
  • @Mitch one of the things I like about SE is that there is communication between OP and people offering answers, so I think we should communicate with OPs and ask them for more insight, so the answers are more meaningful and saves everyone from guessing. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 14:08
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    Just ask for a source. And, yes, close for 'unclear' if no source is provided. Sure you can do the OPs work for them, but we should teach them to do the work.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 14:11
  • What @Mitch said. I often locate the source myself and edit the question accordingly, but if I can't easily find the source, I have no hesitation in closevoting "Unclear" where it seems likely the full context will have a bearing on either meaning or grammaticality. I don't particularly feel obligated to comment requesting contextual clarification before closevoting, but I do try to make a point of re-evaluating my vote if and when the OP edits his question. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 22:03
  • @Mitch - In principle, I agree with you. But how do you teach the OP to do that? Much more likely than not, the OP will never be back. Those that do stick around soon learn. In the meantime, some people are grateful (and hopefully learn as well; I know some - like Little Eva - were and did) for an edit that improved the post. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 4:53

2 Answers 2


I can understand your desire for more information. I'm sure there are a lot of things I'm overlooking in this answer. However... no one is forced to answer a question they feel is inadequate. If you think a question is deficient, you have a number of options:

  • Comment (if they don't respond, you tried)
  • Google the sentence for a source
  • Down vote (with or without a comment)
  • close vote if you have sufficient rep (Is it unclear? Is there lack of research? Custom option? Some of the latter are quite amusing.)
  • Skip the question
  • Grab some popcorn and enjoy the show

What you can't do for the most part, though, is tell other users if they should or shouldn't answer. It won't work, because there are too many users on this site, and no matter what you want to impose on them, new users ignorant of your wishes will answer it anyway.

Should we be asking for sources?

You certainly can ask for sources or context. It doesn't mean you'll get an answer.

Should a question be closed if, after a reasonable amount of time, the OP can't provide a source or explanation?

Given that you have the option to walk away, that strikes me as somewhat authoritarian. It also feels to me that you might change your answer based on the source. The New York times once wrote that an author was married to her dog. That it was the NYT didn't make it more likely to be correct.

FYI, Googling for a source is exceedingly easy to do (copy, paste adding quotation marks, et violà!) It gives me a source 99.999% of the time (top hit). I often edit in the source and the context by doing this.

Trying to get an entire community to change their behavior because you feel something is missing is not going to work, especially when it's an interesting (and amusing) question, great answers are being given, and new users who don't know the site etiquette will constantly break it anyway.

P.S. thanks for asking this question; I totally missed out on the fun, and you called it to my attention.

  • 1
    Ok, I guess I'll have some popcorn and watch the show...lol. Btw, I'm not the authoritarian type...maybe my answers have that feel sometimes but I'm more of a live and let live type...maybe I'm venting a little because I've thought about some questions and then later find out the question was all made up to begin with. Anyway, thank you Medica...btw, I like the sugar coated popcorn they serve at movie theaters in Taiwan. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 7:47
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    @michael_timofeev - oh my word that sounds good! Even to someone who likes butter with their butter! ;) Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 8:05

We do ask for context. I have done so hundreds of times, and I'm far from the most productive reviewer.

I've decided it's a waste of time. Perhaps one in fifty new posters ever even replies to my comments, perhaps one in a hundred makes the suggested improvements. It's much more productive simply to track down the source and insert it my own damn self, and the same goes for adding references to bad answers.

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    I do that too. Easy, and no waiting for an answer from the OP involved! Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 7:06
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    Thank you for responding. I'm not looking to point the finger at anyone...I think everyone does a great job and should be commended for the effort involved in contributing. I think it might clean things up around here and improve answer quality. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 7:41
  • Yep, been there, did that.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 8:22
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    This is a universal problem when you have experience and the other person does not. It is much quicker and easier to do it yourself rather than walk the newbie through what needs to be done... this time. But you still should do the training. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 23:01

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