I apologise if questions like https://ell.stackexchange.com/q/33447/8712 offended. Especially for those closed, how can my questions that truly involve basic English issues, be revised or improved, to fit this site? Is the length of the post the problem? Or does my presentation of the question, from my law preparation book, discourage or repel people? I do apologise about the quantity and will try to sharpen, but I always want to provide sufficient context.

I submit that some of my questions are very lengthy, because the passage itself is lengthy. Yet, despite my use of a law school preparation book, I genuinely believe that my questions concern the English language, and not test taking, law admissions tests, linguistics, phiosophy, law, logic, philosophy, analysis of text, etc (♣). But my goal is to ask about underlying English issues, which I show below, might not be detected or appear so until a gracious user identifies the problem. For example:


User Dan Bron's instructive comment: The statement "people of all races incorrectly estimated X", means "At least one person of every race incorrectly estimated X", or, equivalently, "There is no race where all members had a correct estimate." (I'd upvote and accept his answer, but can't now)

I thank this user effusively and am infinitely grateful for this comment, because it pinpointed the problem: one of basic English, about which I had no clue or inkling, of misinterpreting "people of all races incorrectly estimated X." Again, it has never been a problem of the subjects in (♣). Notwithstanding the 'put on hold' status, if I didn't ask it, I'd be forever ignorant, continue to suffer from this grave mistake and never ever be corrected! I'm certain that it will benefit and help future ELL users. (Actually, I told my friends this, who learned something about English! Please believe me that they want nothing to do with a law test. )

Formal = totalitarian?

I've read the many comments under the post, and especially that of user 200_success. But please advise specifically how to 'rephrase these kinds of questions as English language questions'? Again, my question here concerns basic English. What can be improved?

1 Answer 1


There's a very fine line here. On the one hand, everything that is asked in English could be said to be about English language, but that alone isn't enough to qualify it as a question that is on-topic here.

For instance, your first question is a question about the semantics, and the logical interplay between words - I'd say that it's borderline, but if push came to shove, I'd vote to close it. You'll see that Dan Bron has said in his answer that he would need to reference philosophy and logic.

On the other hand, just because you need to reference works or authorities from other fields, it doesn't mean that it is off-topic here. English Language learning isn't really a single field in itself, but a set of related areas.

The second question, in my opinion, is off-topic, because I wouldn't expect a native speaker to have a firm grasp on what is being said there, let alone a learner. Along with some of the other questions that have been closed, it's because they language of the passage of text contains highly-institutionalised, highly field-specific phrases (and phrasing) such that one needs to be appropriately inducted into those fields to have a reasonable chance of comprehending it at all.

I think, however, that the source of questions should be relevant to resolving this debate. I seem to recall something in the SE canon that states that questions should be on-topic or off-topic according to their own merits compared to the criteria defined by the community. (If I made that up, then it probably should be a thing.) Questions shouldn't be off-topic just because there are a lot of other questions from the same source, or along the same line; similarly, questions shouldn't be on-topic just because there aren't others of a similar nature.

In the case of some of your recently-closed questions, I'd say that they were justifiably closed. There's an ineffable upper limit to the technicality and density of language that a learner would conceivably come across in their studies; your questions would confound even native speakers, unless they had some formal education/training in logic, or perhaps law. (It's the requirement for specific training/education that pushes it for me, I think.)

I would suggest perhaps engaging the services of a paid tutor to help you with some of your more difficult questions. However, for the easier ones (particularly as they apply to law), it may be worth supporting the Area 51 proposal and waiting until that's established to ask them, if it's on-topic there.

  • 1
    While I won't argue that a question that requires reading an entire passage to be able to answer is off-topic, I do think that questions aren't necessarily excluded because they're advanced. Learners aren't just beginners - even someone that knows English well enough to read an English newspaper without trouble can still be learning English.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 21, 2014 at 15:15
  • Yes, but we need to draw a distinction between people who are just 'learning English' and those who are 'English learners'; it's the latter that we are targeting on this site (isn't it?) and the former... well, if you can read a newspaper without difficultly then you likely have a good grasp on many aspects of the language.
    – jimsug
    Sep 23, 2014 at 3:04
  • What I also mean to distinguish between are those who are learning English, and using text from a certain field to do so, and those who are mastering a certain field that is in English - there's a difference in aim between the two, and one leads to questions that are useful for future learners of English, while the other leads to questions that are useful to future learners of the field. There's sure to be an overlap, but which do we aim for? I think the answer is clear.
    – jimsug
    Sep 23, 2014 at 3:05
  • Additionally, there has to be a limit to the density and technicality of language we're prepared to handle here, because otherwise, the site becomes a catch-all for all questions in English, provided that the asker doesn't understand it. For instance, I regularly encounter terms that I'm not familiar with, in contexts that I find difficult to parse; these questions, I don't think would be suitable for ELL as they require expert knowledge of a particular sub-field of linguistics that even those on Linguistics aren't overly familiar with.
    – jimsug
    Sep 23, 2014 at 3:07
  • It's not about how advanced the question is, but about how field-specific and technical the question is. Legal and historiographical discourse often employs language in uncommonsense ways, which I don't think should necessarily be on-topic, much as if someone asked us a question about civil engineering here, we would close it, whether it were in English or not.
    – jimsug
    Sep 23, 2014 at 3:09

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