This question bothers on me on two accounts.

First, it seems to be a pretty easy combination of words. Look up each word in the dictionary and then put the meanings together.

But the main thing is asking for an exlanation of the hierarchy. This is at borderline offtarget because we are supposed to be dealing with questions about English, but on the other hand these "royalty" terms are part of English. Which is why I "suggested" that the OP do their own Internet Search to get an explanation of these terms and their hierarchy. Because to me anything besides a general meaning is offtopic. And certainly an explanation of the whole hiearchical system is beyond the scope of ELL.

But my wider "complaint" is that there have been lots of questions in which an answer could have been gotten by the ELLearner simply doing an internet search for the answer. Is it not possible for such people to perform this function?

These include, obviously, dictionary definitions. But also, I think, first tries at Idiom meanings, because there are plenty of Idiom Dictionaries out there, and/or dictionaries that define many idioms. I think that a poster could just do an internet search for an Idiom rather than ask here first. That is minimal research. (And yes I will go read the related meta question about what to do about idioms,...I am using them only as an example here.)

And that leads into such questions about "explaining the hierarchy of royal titles." or asking other broad questions that are more subject oriented than EL oriented. I guess I am blowing off some steam, because it just seems to me that a lot of folks could easily find an answer on the internet, rather than post a question here.

Then there is the what is the difference between the simple past and the present perfect, or explain how the past perfect works. I mean, are such broad questions on topic here? And again, it seems to me that a ELLearner could just sit down and type those exact words into google or bing or yahoo or whatever and get many site that will do just what the learner is asking.

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    While I don't think a question is off topic simply because there's an answer somewhere on the Internet, I much prefer questions where some attempt has been made to answer it before asking. If the research attempt turned up nothing or something confusing, answers here can help the next person doing the same research attempt by providing a more complete explanation. The asker should explain why their results weren't satisfactory though, so we aren't just guessing at what aspects we should explain or elaborate on. – ColleenV Nov 8 '14 at 21:01
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    I agree with everything you're saying, with one caveat: I like to give learners the benefit of the doubt as to how easy (or hard) an answer may be to find on the internet. A phrase like "on the job training" might be perfectly understandable to a native, but confusing to a non-native, and looking up words like "on" "job" and "training" won't help. We need to know how to parse the phrase, and that's not always readily apparent. In short, I strongly support your urge to encourage more research, but only if the community isn't too quick to misjudge legitimate confusion as "lack of effort." – J.R. Nov 9 '14 at 3:13
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    One other note, about the question you reference: I agree that the "earl hierarchy" probably warrants further research by the O.P.; it's not our job to explain that. But the first part of the question (about the meaning of, "yet time for that tiny slip") is an okay ELL question, in my opinion. – J.R. Nov 9 '14 at 3:18
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    I think that even if the user has done the research, it helps us if they include in their post their (mis)understanding of it so far, and the sources that this based on. Otherwise we're all just outsourced search engines – jimsug Nov 9 '14 at 3:23
  • @jimsug Not necessarily, because if you don't know the answer, you can let someone who does step in for you :-) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 17 '15 at 2:41
  • @Araucaria: I think we'll have to agree to disagree on it. I'll just say that, if I spent time and wrote an answer up on a question, and the asker said that they'd already found that out but was confused about some aspect of it, I'd be a little miffed. – jimsug Feb 19 '15 at 23:38

Regarding the specific post OP links to, I'm in no doubt that the secondary meaning of "earl" question is Off Topic - if I'd answered the primary question I might well have ignored that part (or perhaps posted a comment explaining as much as was necessary to define the likely relevance to the context as quoted).

Regarding the substantive question (which I understand as "What does "yet" mean here?"), I think this is definitely On Topic. That may be because I completely agree with Tetsujin's answer where it makes the point that [The usage yet = still] is slightly archaic & might not be so commonly-used in modern writing. I haven't tried, but I doubt it would be easy for me to establish definitively that yet = still is at least "dated".

I have two main reasons for thinking that observation is worth making on a learners website. First, there are several different ways "yet" can be used, and since I assume it's much harder to Google things when everything you find is written in a foreign language, we should be more tolerant in this respect that would be the case on, say ELU.

Secondly, I think one of the things that should particularly interest learners is recognizing the difference between current usages and those which are falling/have fallen out of fashion. There's a lot to learn when you're trying to acquire another language; knowing that you're not likely to encounter some perplexing usage (or be expected to produce it yourself) may help you learn what you really need a lot quicker. It should be easier to learn the more obscure points later, once you've got past the level where everything is hard because it's all in a foreign language (including any answers posted in ELL! :).

TL;DR: Cut learners some slack!

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    I think there is a gray area, but it always helps when the asker explains why they're confused or gives some insight into their thought process. Certainly there are many questions about word meanings that could have answers that elaborate on the subtleties, but they may not resolve the confusion that motivated the learner to ask their question. I think that it is a huge time sink without much return on investment to "over answer" a question because we're not really sure why the asker wasn't successful in finding an answer on their own. – ColleenV Nov 10 '14 at 18:42
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    @ColleenV: I don't want to get too bogged down in criticism/defence of one particular user (who admittedly often fails to provide evidence of his "prior research"). But it doesn't have to be a "time sink". I rarely engage with him for more than a couple of comments, but occasionally he has a point. – FumbleFingers Nov 10 '14 at 19:24
  • I wasn't referring to a particular user. I think that for certain questions the community spends a lot of time crafting answers to cover a lot of possible sources of confusion and that perhaps that time should have been spent asking the poster to explain what is tripping them up. If there is a split where some folks think it is answerable with a dictionary and some folks think it has a more interesting answer, I think that's a clue that the question needs to be clarified to explain the source of the confusion. – ColleenV Nov 10 '14 at 19:38
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    @ColleenV: I'm not sure if we're in disagreement or not. I doubt if I closevote even 1% of ELL questions as General Reference, but I have the impression other users with the necessary rep do this even less often than me. It's extremely rare for me to disagree if 5 other users CV as GR, so presumably if everyone else adopted my GR threshold, this question would never have been asked (we'd prolly have someone else complaining we're becoming elitist! :). But I will admit I'm sometimes a bit indulgent re badly presented/researched questions, if I think they will admit of a good answer anyway. – FumbleFingers Nov 10 '14 at 22:15
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    I do think we're in agreement. I wouldn't have chosen that specific question as an illustration of the problem when examples like What is 'slave to the grind' meaning in skid row's album? exist. That the folks answering do a good job of deducing the most likely aspect of the meaning that is troublesome shouldn't excuse a lack of effort in composing the question by the learner. – ColleenV Nov 10 '14 at 22:33
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    @ColleenV: Well, I didn't CV the "grind" question because the OP hadn't done sufficient research. I took it for granted he already knew (or could be expected to find out for himself) the sense grind = hard dull work. Many other senses (pelvic thrusting, music genres, etc.) might or might not be easily established. But deciding which of them are relevant, and to what extent, is subjective. That's why I closevoted the question - but as a courtesy I posted a comment justifying my action and advancing what I thought was a relevant (but "non-obvious") sense. – FumbleFingers Nov 11 '14 at 13:21
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    I meant it only as an example of a question where the asker didn't put any effort into the question. Did the OP look up grind and try to figure out the answer? We don't know because all they asked was "what does this mean?" with no explanation of why they couldn't figure it out themselves. That's exactly the type of question that I think we should push back on for more detail. – ColleenV Nov 11 '14 at 14:43
  • @ColleenV: I think I'd have closevoted that question regardless of how much prior research the OP had shown! Seriously, lack of same isn't really significant for me in terms of closevoting, but I do try to bear it in mind when it comes to upvoting questions which appear well-researched, even if the actual subject matter and potential answers don't seem particularly interesting to me personally. – FumbleFingers Nov 11 '14 at 16:06
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    I agree that it probably isn't a salvageable question, but maybe if the asker had written "this part of the definition confused me because..." it might have been OK. Maybe not, but I think it is good to choose "more details/research" before "this is bad subject matter" when closing a question because it helps encourage posters to write better questions in general. Often the questions I do CV on could be closed for multiple reasons and I try to pick the one that is most likely to help the poster construct a better question in the future. – ColleenV Nov 11 '14 at 18:52

Yes, we do expect at least a modicum of effort from our questioners. In fact, this is exactly why we have the custom hold reason:

Off-topic because: This question should include more details than have been provided here. Please edit to add the research you have done in your efforts to answer the question, or provide more context. See: Details, Please.

If a question is clearly lacking in effort you should feel free to ask the questioner to put forth a bit of their own time and brainpower before devoting any of your own to it.


Before chastising users for asking "silly" questions, consider that it is hard to tell what is going on in a learner's mind, especially when you are much more familiar with the subject. Before you can even start searching for the meaning of the expression, you have to first identify what the expression is!

If you think that yet time for that tiny slip is a fixed expression, you aren't going to get anywhere with a search. You would first have to understand that

  • yet is an adverb that can be more or less ignored,
  • time is the object of the clause,
  • for that tiny slip is a prepositional phrase

… and all of that is within the context of a very long, complex sentence.

As another example, if you mis-parse the sentence, you would naturally get totally confused. An English language learner would probably not realize that down and out is the relevant phrase whose meaning needs to be looked up.

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    I agree that the question regarding yet time for that tiny slip is valid. It was not my main concern, and I hurried over it to get to my main point... I agree, however, with the notion of cutting learners more slack, as I did in the airplane/aeroplane question. – user6951 Nov 14 '14 at 19:59
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    It helps though to see how the learner attempted to parse the sentence, even if they did it incorrectly, and to have them explain any guesses they might have. – ColleenV Nov 15 '14 at 13:29

I am a life long native speaker of British English. As such, I think I have some valid insights for any learner.

Here are two questions I recently answered on

Difference between "however" and "whereas"?
closed as off topic. But surely just the kind of thing a beginner would ask?

Does "49er" mean "A 49-year-old man"? I was extensively down voted for providing examples of words related to the original query. I am sure that the people down voting me are sticking to whatever rules apply. But if so, the rules are wrong IMHO

Maybe English for beginners isn't a suitable topic for stackexchange

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    I just read your answer to the 49er question. You just listed some words that are only tangentially (really really vaguely) related to the poster's question. While perhaps the OP found it interesting, it doesn't help the questioner at all with what they originally asked. It is noise. – Tim Seguine Nov 17 '14 at 12:44
  • @TimSeguine I feel that if the OP finds it interesting, then they've learnt something about English. But I understand this is the minority view, so i won't be participating in future – Vorsprung Nov 17 '14 at 15:20
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    Posting that sort of thing is fine in comments. Answers should answer the question. – Tim Seguine Nov 17 '14 at 15:27
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    What @Tim said. The "answer" to the "49er" question was correctly converted to a comment by a mod (but imho the "however/whereas" question was incorrectly closed). The "earl" part of the first question linked to was undoubtedly Off Topic (I'm sure I commented as much, but that's since been tidied away by mods). The main part of that question (about the dated/archaic use of "yet") is only marginally On Topic, since it's barely "current" English for most native speakers. – FumbleFingers Nov 17 '14 at 17:19
  • Answers are generally down voted because they don't answer the question or they answer it incorrectly. An answer must stand on its own because any user can delete or edit their answers at any time. If you post an answer with the intention of elaborating on what has already been said, you should restate the answer to be certain that your elaboration and the answer don't get separated. I struggled with it a little because I don't like repeating what someone else has said, but it is important given the format of the site. – ColleenV Nov 17 '14 at 21:10
  • StackExchange sites are places for you to get expert answers to your questions. If I may be candid, it isn't a place where learners can outsource a simple web search. I don't really hesitate to close a meaning question if it's asking for a definition. Sometimes I comment with a link to the definition. – jimsug Nov 18 '14 at 3:53

The main problem with telling new learners to research something on the Internet is that the Internet is written mostly in the language they're trying to learn. But where's the point of balance between patience & understanding and keeping ELL - as a reference - short, concise, & to the point? Someone using ELL as a reference to find an answer wouldn't want to wade through a seemingly endless list of questions & answers that really don't address the user's concern. Yet, how do we help the new learner without cluttering up the site for others? I've noticed the ELL moderators answer those questions, rarely down vote the question, then close the question. That seems to me the perfect solution. The question gets answered, and the site gets only briefly cluttered. ELL seems to be the most vibrant category on the Stack Exchange in which a question is most likely to get answered. Any suggestions how to maintain or improve ELL would be appreciated.

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    I don't have an issue with people who infrequently post poorly-researched questions when I can imagine that researching them would take skills beyond that of a learner. For instance, for those questions essentially asking for a definition, I've tried (though I've admittedly been slipping here) to do a quick lookup myself, link to it in a comment and tell them to look it up in the future, then vote to close. But it's not really the purpose of the site to outsource a simple web search, and I don't think it should be. I notice when people do this repeatedly and am less sympathetic when they do. – jimsug Nov 18 '14 at 3:48
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    My view is similar to @jimsug's - If I can go to Google and type "define bolded words from the question" and get a sensible answer, I vote to close with the off-topic reason that includes the "show the research you've done" advice. I'm perfectly willing to re-open if the asker clarifies why such a simple search didn't help their understanding. – ColleenV Nov 18 '14 at 6:15
  • @jimsug Whereas I'm quite capable of doing my own Internet research, "Jim, you can look that answer up, yourself," would be an appropriate comment. But, for questioners that don't have the language or Net savvy, your efforts are appreciated. I agree with you, though, that a questioner shouldn't make that a habit. – JimM Nov 18 '14 at 13:53
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    I might also add as a general comment that if you a question gets closed, downvoting serves no purpose other than to give additional feedback on the post - write a comment instead. – jimsug Nov 18 '14 at 15:17
  • @jimsug I just recently earned the privilege of downvoting, which I'll never do for a contributor with fewer than 100 reputation points. Agreed, it serves no purpose. – JimM Nov 18 '14 at 15:43

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