This is the follow-up of Is This Tag Useful? Episode 1 - The Big Boss (grammar). (i.e. intended to be the community decision on the matter, if people agree with the sentiments of this meta post)


I believe the opposite side has a point, while reaching the wrong conclusion. So I take all of the sides into account. We're going to

  1. Edit every post with and replace the tag with something actually useful.
  2. Leave the tag on only one question, so it works as a temporary tag. We should — and hopefully will — edit every new question with a (mis)tag.

The question that we're going to leave the only instance of the tag is this one. I humbly request contributing answers supported by citable sources to the question.


A clearer view on the dilemma

It was not terribly clear what tags were meant to be on ELL. Bad tags popped up that wouldn't have so in other SEs. I can count a few possible reasons:

  • Tags on ELL carry an extra burden of responsibility. They should be

    1. linguistically correct and
    2. simple enough to be applied to learners' questions by learners

    at the same time. Creating such tags isn't easy.

  • Primarily, tags are being created and applied by learners. And unfortunately, since the majority of learners never or seldom learn linguistic terminology, they don't exactly know what their question is about. For instance, someone asking whether if their is grammatical seldom knows "backshifting" itself and will stick to .

  • The primary creators of the main tags didn't have consensus on what a tag should do, or they weren't familiar with what an SE tag should do.

  • My standards are too high.

Anyway, they got created. Sometimes they were brought to the attention of the relatively tiny meta community and were dealt with. However, the most popular tags turned into "default" category tags: If you don't know what your query is about, you can easily circumvent the tag requirement by adding or . On rare cases, also .

ELL has a very large user base of querents and a smaller one of answerers, but to my dismay, it only gets a handful of regular editors. Hence editing, the symbol of moderation, never catches up to traffic and the editors found themselves editing only direr, more extreme cases. This usually leads to bad tagging and tags aggravating, just like an infection spreading through the body.

So, over the time, people left alone because why does it hurt to have that tag? However, as explained in my former meta post, it horribly fails the criteria of a good SE tag.


On the right path, you sometimes face a wall. Then, you've got three choices.

  • break through the wall (burninate )
  • find a ladder (clarify , let it be)
  • go back and think "this mustn't be the right way" (leave alone, and do practically nothing)

Doing nothing

I'm not sure if this would be the choice of anyone who cares about quality on ELL. Let's move on, this post will be long enough.

Clarifying 's scope

This is the strongest solution suggested against burninating ; because for what it's worth a sensible soul would rather find a ladder than plant some explosives. The solution boils down to why remove when we can clarify its scope?

IMO, it will most probably fail. The advantage of clarifying would be that askers on ELL won't be hard-pressed to find a tag for their question. The disadvantage, however, would be that we'd still have a "default" tag for many of the askers. The way is currently being used is precisely the way a hypothetical would've been (the advice in this answer is imprecise and incorrect and unfortunately definitely not researched).

So you see, the problem is that after being loaded from theory to practice these suggestions tend to fail. A puzzled asker is very much unlikely to take a tour (i.e. doing seemingly unrelated stuff when there seems to be a site that answers the question they've been craving to find an answer for) before asking, yet we expect them to read a meta post or tag wiki. What's more, how do you guarantee that they will (want to) comprehend and not grow tired of what we've written for them?

I've definitely had questions that bugged me a lot. I always try to concentrate on finding an answer for them, rather than going to read something perhaps seemingly irrelevant to my query. See the contradiction? The people that most need to read what we've written for them won't; definitely not when they should. Considering the fact that regular editors are scarce, meta consensus easily gets forgotten in even edits and thus clarifying and redefining the scope of will be a temporary solution at best and an arrow gone to waste from the quiver at worst.


This was originally my solution. It may seem radical, but I haven't seen a strong argument against it, other than the other failing suggestion. Oh wait, there was an "argument": So is bad. Then so is or ! Gawd, they are bad. I never said is the only culprit in the house. Other tags being bad doesn't mean is good, just like 15 murderers in a house doesn't mean the 16th person can't be one.

So the upside of this would be that it's as permanent as it gets. There are no wikis to write, just probably a couple of tags — new, useful tags — to make. The downside of this, however, would be that learners will perhaps face more difficulty in finding a relevant tag for their question. I still don't buy this as a very strong probability, but it's something to consider. After all, not all those askers wanted to simply circumvent the must-add-tag warning.

So, what to do?

Getting to a consensus is hard, and maybe the discussion is far from over. The let--be-a-temporary-tag is spot on though. There are no mechanisms to achieve such a thing in Stack Exchange. But how about we let people tag their question as and then quickly edit it out by ourselves and replace it with something more useful? Then again, tags not applied on questions get deleted after 24 hours, so what should we do now?

A proposed solution would be to heed this nice guy when he said @inɒzɘmɒЯ.A.M Somebody write a self-answered question on "What do we mean by 'grammar'?" put the grammar tag on that. As a result, I created the post What is meant by "grammar"? and now we're eagerly waiting for your answers on it!

This solution is the best that comes to my mind. We'd still get rid of a nuisance (my previous solution) and we'd still have a tag available for learners whose hopes are being burnt into despair being drown in the sea of linguistic terminology they don't understand which otherwise would've been thrown at them.

The only downside to my solution is that we need hawk eyes to stop the tag from raising its ugly head again. We need more editors for sure. The solution isn't as permanent as removing/blacklisting , but it certainly takes the views of both parties into account.

Well, what do you think? Are you going to contribute an answer to "what is grammar"? Do you have any objections to the mass retagging that will soon be heard of? Does your head hurt after reading all this?

  • 1
    I'm ready to check/edit/delete/add the tag 'grammar' from the past questions. However, I don't agree on keeping the tag only on one question you yourself posted. But yes, a link to that question for guiding the asker looks okay to me.
    – Maulik V
    Oct 13, 2015 at 4:32
  • @Maulik what do yo suggest we do instead?
    – M.A.R.
    Oct 13, 2015 at 9:49
  • cleaning up as much as possible (I'm ready for this big task but I certainly need a dozen more hands!). And now since you raised a genuine concern, I'm all eyes and ears when it comes to the tag grammar. I've already started watching questions with this tag as they come. Canonical post suggesting 'which question should have 'grammar' tag' would be fine. Or else, your own post on ELL's link (it should have some more answers though) is also a good way.
    – Maulik V
    Oct 13, 2015 at 9:52

3 Answers 3


Yes, "grammar" is a pretty vague tag to use on a site that's mostly about grammar.

But I don't see where you are suggesting a viable alternative.

You mention that it would be more accurate or appropriate to label questions with technical terms that describe grammar issues. You concede that there's a problem that most people posting questions won't know these terms.

I'd add that, (a) Sometimes the point of the question is what grammar issue or principle applies. In that case to tag the question would be to answer it. (Maybe not to answer it in a way that is clear and helpful, but it would be an answer.) (b) Even if the person asking the question understood a technical term, other people reading the question might well not.

That said, I don't know what sort of tagging on this site would be useful.

By which I mean: I'm a software developer, so I often visit Stack Overflow. When I go to answer questions, I search for tags that identify subjects that I know something about. There's no point in me wading through questions Python looking for one I might know the answer to when I'm a raw beginner at Python. So I look for VB or database design. Etc. But how would that apply here? Is there a category of questions that you would be likely to be able to answer, and other categories that you wouldn't? How would both asker and answerer identify such categories in a consistent way?

I think the question to ask is not, What would be technically accurate by some established set of definitions?, but rather, What would be useful?

  • Hmm, exactly. RE a: Those questions are very rare, we might as allow "grammar" on those, but definitely this tag is redundant in 3,900 of the 4,000-something questions. RE questions: Of course, but unfortunately I'm not seeing enough cooperation from the answerers and askers on ELL to get to a tagging system that everyone would be able to make sense of. (Except chat, but those users are . . . something else :) In my train of thought, a good ELL tag should be one that primarily is useful in searching.
    – M.A.R.
    Oct 19, 2015 at 19:48
  • Also, I'm not saying including technical vocabulary in the tags is a must, but it must be inevitable at some point. Thing is, "meaning-in-context" is not an unfathomably sophisticated name for a tag, but it's way more useful than "grammar" in searches and its scope is clearer.
    – M.A.R.
    Oct 19, 2015 at 19:50
  • 3
    My yardstick for a tag is how likely an asker would use it to refine their search and how likely an answerer would be to subscribe to the tag to filter questions they're interested in answering. I think grammar comes up short on both counts. That said, I think of the grammar tag as the "please help me tag my question because I'm not sure" tag.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 19, 2015 at 21:11
  • 6
    "Is there a category of questions that you would be likely to be able to answer," I specifically look for questions tagged with mathematics because I have a background in the topic, and am able to present one perspective on formal use of mathematical terms. I also scan word-request because I enjoy the answers other people give in that category. grammar is so overloaded, though, that it doesn't provide any useful filter.
    – Adam
    Oct 19, 2015 at 21:17

Grammar is a misunderstood tag. Currently, the tag wiki on this site says

This tag is for grammar questions, but only if you're not certain what other tag to use. If possible, tag as tense, verb, articles, prepositions, or some other more specific tag or tags instead.

It's already a catch-all tag, in which case it should be burninated and blacklisted: some questions (perhaps a large number) would end up as "untagged", but that's theoretically OK because they never had a substantive tag to start with. Correctly tagging untagged questions might be psychologically more attractive than re-tagging questions with the wrong tag.

There's a Grammar tag on ELU as well, and it's also misunderstood. But it does have a [slightly] more defined purpose:

This tag is for questions about how grammar works, e.g. different grammatical usages, how they can be used, or what they mean. For questions that ask whether something is grammatical, please use the "grammaticality" tag instead.

That is, it's for discussing the nitty-gritty of grammar and how it works. Perhaps it might be used to tag a question about the difference between direct and indirect objects and why indirect objects don't always have the preposition to as an indicator — in which case grammar would be accompanied on that question by other relevant tags. I'd still like to see that particular use have a different tag (like "mechanics of grammar" or something similar) in order that ELU doesn't cater for questioners' misunderstanding of what grammar actually consists of. For example, punctuation aids interpretation of grammar; grammar is essential to a correct semantic interpretation: all three are distinct. ELU's grammar tag is most often changed to grammaticality.

Perhaps what might work here at ELL is to remove the tag; render existing questions untagged if they only have that tag in order that they can be dealt with; and then, if it's likely to be useful, reinstate a better-defined grammar tag along the lines of the ELU intention. Some of the now-untagged questions may actually be retagged as grammar.

Where tags appear in two sites, they need to be broadly in line so that migrated questions aren't wrongly tagged on the destination site. There have been some ELU Meta questions about the grammar tag, because it does need some work and it is often used by askers out of confusion or ignorance, but it's not deliberately a catch-all. What happens to ELL's tag will almost certainly be useful for ELU too.

  • 1
    Hmm, we have about 30 questions with what I call a legit use of "grammar", which is very close to your "grammar" tag being correctly applied. Maybe we should burninate "grammar" from 4k posts and make a new tag indeed. It really doesn't make any difference to me to burn "grammar" first and retag second, or vice versa.
    – M.A.R.
    Oct 21, 2015 at 19:57
  • The majority of questions I've seen with the grammar tag on them should be either tagged "grammaticality" or "I-don't-know-what-to-pick-and-this-popular-tag-looks-good". On ELL, it's rare that the question is really asking to dig into the nuts and bolts of grammar. I think it would make sense to burniate the tag first, update the tag wiki, and then start tagging the questions that really should be tagged grammar with it. I assume that burniating it will take it off of the top of the list and make it less likely folks will choose it.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 22, 2015 at 15:51

This is in reply to both this page, and Is This Tag Useful? Episode 1 - The Big Boss (grammar)

As noted, if grammar has been used so often that it is not useful as a filter, then blacklist its use as a tag. There are other tags that are more useful, and it will take only a few moments of the learner's time and energy to find that tag. They are motivated enough to post here, that motivation should be sufficient to provide an extra minute's energy to providing a more narrowly defined tag. And if they provide a new one in their version of English - well - at least the question will tell us what they are thinking.

Other choices noted, e.g. burninating. AFAIK, this would involve massive editing and work. This exchange already suffers from a small volunteer energy, why would one add to their task? It would mean certain failure, I would think. But my understanding is that blacklisting would only affect future posts, while "burninating" would affect all grammar tagged posts.

So, I would argue for blacklisting and otherwise leaving it "as-is". Find some regular editors and send direct requests that they spend some effort relabeling old grammar-only tags and updating with a more accurate subcategory.

But I also have to ask — because the answers are not clear to me — are there other alternatives? Can a better tag list be provided (i.e. a "preferred" tag list)? Is blacklisting grammar permanent?

IMO, a visible listing of preferred tags would be useful — and it is not obvious that there might be one when posting a question. But the autofill/autosearch feature in the tag box is quite good, and should be sufficient.

  • Blacklisting has a couple of practical downsides. It requires a developer (not just a diamond mod) to enable, and forces anyone who edits the question at all to remove the tag. There's a feature-request to make tag deprecation better. Oct 30, 2015 at 4:35
  • I see. Well, I would think that if someone were editing an existing question, that would be a good time to pick a new tag as well. If it does get blacklisted, there should be a very high priority on putting notification out there. I will have to go look to find out what "tag deprecation" means in practical use here.
    – Mark G B
    Oct 30, 2015 at 16:24

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