Are the meanings of "free" and "FREE" the same in "Totally FREE service"?

Which rules were broken that meant that this question was an ill-fit for ELL?

To copy my comment across after it started collecting close votes:

This site isn't about English grammar. It's about helping people who are learning English to get on in the English speaking world. Someone learning English wanting to know if a capitalized word "FREE" means the same (or is grammatical) compared with the word "free" sounds like an entirely legitimate question for ELL.

I've voted to re-open because I can't see any good reason why this question doesn't fit with ELL's mission of helping new English speakers to find their feet in the English speaking world.

It's also obviously a bad fit for ELU, so if not ELL, where can an English learner legitimately ask whether capitalization of words changes their meaning?

It's not even a stupid question, since there are words which do change their meaning when you capitalise them differently.

The Titanic was a titanic ship

A change of law says that turkeys may march in Turkey in May or in March.

Barack Obama speaks on behalf of all of us / Barack Obama speaks on behalf of the US

Or my favourite, but somewhat more rude when miscapitalized:

I helped my uncle Jack off his horse

So anyway, I think this question is a question which isn't necessarily obvious to a new speaker, it isn't a grammar question that is fit for ELU, and it's a question that's helping a new English Learner with a problem that he actually encountered.

I'm voting to re-open unless someone can tell me why this isn't a good fit for ELL, or what specific FAQ rules were broken.

EDIT This is what the FAQ says:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK.

It seems to me then that this question is valid to all three of those requirements. It's a real question that an English learner actually encountered, it's a limited scope question and it's phrased as a question and not a discussion.

  • 1
    The question only needs one more vote for reopening - I've cast mine as it came up in the review queue
    – Deco
    Feb 17, 2013 at 23:52
  • @Matt: Okay, you've convinced me that question isn't Off Topic by anything in the FAQ. But I'm still inclined to think it's a trivial GR issue, which I might downvote (as opposed to closevote). On the grounds that I personally wouldn't want to see questions of that type abound on ELL, regardless of exactly what the FAQ says. Feb 19, 2013 at 0:08
  • @FumbleFingers: The good thing about re-opening this question, is that all similar questions can then be closed as a duplicate of this one.
    – Matt
    Feb 19, 2013 at 0:12
  • @Matt: Good point, if the implication of that is we'd like to be a bit less tolerant of "minor variations on a theme" in respect of "visual representations of the language". It's a very divisive question though, with 5 downvotes & 5 closevotes, against 5 upvotes & (currently) 4 reopen votes, so I think it's certainly good that you raise it here regardless of my personal opinion on the question itself. But you'll have to excuse me for not upvoting your meta question, since I don't endorse your position. btw - can we not we closevote as dups against questions that are themselves closed? Feb 19, 2013 at 0:23
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: I fully understand - and in this particular case I didn't really like the question either. The meta is less about me complaining that the question was closed, and more about saying if we're going to close questions as off-topic, we need to have the discussion about what we define as on/off topic. If the question remains closed because someone has good reasons why the question is off-topic, that's great. If the question is closed just because it's not great, well, it should just be down-voted rather than closed.
    – Matt
    Feb 19, 2013 at 0:40
  • I still don't really see why the FREE question needs to remain open. To allow for the possibility of a better answer being posted? It seems to me the OP got his answer, and everything of consequence that needs to be said (at the level of ELU) has been said. I think it's essentially "writing advice" anyway, and if it's left open that's probably all it'll attract by way of future answers. But ELL is a democracy (of sorts), so it's bound to at least get reopened, and those of us who closevoted can't do that a second time - ever, as I understand it. Feb 19, 2013 at 1:08
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers: It doesn't need to remain open. It's just if we're going to close it as off-topic, we need to discuss what off-topic questions are, and come up with objective, open and community-backed reasons why any question must be closed. Closing questions should really be reserved for basket-cases, not for questions that just aren't very good. Questions that aren't very good might still get really good answers, but closed questions never will.
    – Matt
    Feb 19, 2013 at 1:20
  • @Matt: That's very hard to do, for a few reasons. It's hard to reach a unanimous consensus about everything that's on- or off-topic. Even if we COULD pull that off, there would still be some questions near the boundaries; one man's trash is another man's treasure. In this case, the question seems to be more about typesetting than English, so I can understand why some would vote to close. Still, I must add, I sense that the O.P. knew the question was maybe pushing the boundary some, and did a commendable job of keeping the question as on-topic as possible in the way he framed his bolded text.
    – J.R. Mod
    Feb 19, 2013 at 1:33
  • @Matt: I don't fully agree your opinions on closed questions, but I will point out that my second most upvoted question on ELU came within one vote of being closed. Also that even if a "good" (actually, or potentially) question has lain closed for a long time, it can be reopened whenever someone makes a case on meta for saying they have a useful answer they want to add. That's happened many times on ELU. Feb 19, 2013 at 1:37
  • @J.R. I guess, nobody had doubts about whether I knew the answer when asking. :) Also, I have never hidden the fact that the Q was, indeed, intended to find the limit. And I found it, considering +5/-5 votes and +5/-5 close votes. :) In fact, I found more than that: the Q got 161 views, which is among the top 8% here, obviously without any SE pump, thanks to downvoters. Unlike a certainly worse Q about Richard Stallman's quote. Feb 19, 2013 at 14:36
  • @bytebuster: I thought your "free software" question was significantly more interesting than your "FREE checking" question. As for the 161 views, I think you have Matt to thank for that; I'm sure many people saw this meta question and went to investigate. As for asking questions intending to gauge a limit, I'd prefer people ask questions because they are seeking knowledge; I hope you had at least a modicum of interest in the answers themselves, and that you weren't merely testing the waters for the sake of conducting an experiment.
    – J.R. Mod
    Feb 19, 2013 at 20:08
  • @J.R. Yes, Matt's input is absolutely great. Yes, defining topic is the major purpose of Beta. The only way to do it is by asking questions and getting down-/closevotes. I hope it make sense. And let me skip an inaccurate allegation about "modicum of interest". Sorry for I can't simply edit your comment to remove it. :) Feb 19, 2013 at 21:08
  • @bytebuster: I never made an allegation; I merely said that I hoped you were truly interested in the question that you asked. There was no accusation either way. Thoughtful answers take a long time to compose – I would prefer to spend my time answering questions where the O.P. is interested in the answers, and not merely trying to determine boundaries. If the question is only about boundaries, perhaps a discussion on meta would be a better place to address it.
    – J.R. Mod
    Feb 19, 2013 at 22:19
  • @J.R. Any thoughtful post - either Q or A - takes time. If the Q is primarily about the boundaries, its place is meta. I'm glad we agree here. Feb 19, 2013 at 22:36

2 Answers 2


Personally I cast a close vote when it popped up in the review queue because the question didn't seem to pertain at all to learning English. What difference does it make if a word is in all caps or not? Some fonts, for that matter, display only in all caps; you can't type a lowercase letter even if you want to. So would changing your font to one of those fonts change the meaning of your sentence? Of course not, in any language. So I didn't see that the question had a place here.

My opinion, at any rate. Others are of course welcome to disagree! This is the sort of thing we have to hash out in beta, after all.

  • -1: There's a tiny difference between capitalization and font size. The former is about the language, the latter is about typography and UI. I believe, this is why there's a tag for capitalization and no tag for font-size. :) Feb 18, 2013 at 1:24
  • 2
    @bytebuster Capitalization's not quite the same thing as typing a word in all caps; "Why is Sunday capitalized" is different than "Is there a difference between SUNDAY and Sunday". But we can certainly agree to disagree here--that's what meta discussions are great for :) I wish there was a bit more activity on meta at the moment, honestly--it's important to have these discussions now!
    – WendiKidd
    Feb 18, 2013 at 1:50
  • @bytebuster There's also a difference between capitalization - what words should be written with an initial cap, which WendiKidd did not address - and all caps, which is the question before the House. Feb 18, 2013 at 3:01
  • @StoneyB Correct, there are different definitions of capitalization. Does it make the OP offtopic? :) Feb 18, 2013 at 3:30
  • 2
    @bytebuster By no means; but it does suggest that a downvote on this answer is not justified by the observation which follows your colon :-) Feb 18, 2013 at 3:32
  • @StoneyB "Different definitions" suggests that there may be (and will be) those who disagree. But you are right, it must be a semicolon. Downvote was for "the question didn't seem to pertain at all to learning English". Feb 18, 2013 at 3:43

I don't see the applicability of the us vs. US and march vs March comparisons; they are not relevant in the case of FREE checking. The meaning of free doesn't change after it gets put into upper-case letters.

There are several ways to emphasize a word in text, including bolding, font size, and all caps. Just my opinion, but I see this as nothing more than an advertiser wanting to emphasize the "free" nature of the product.

If the question has a fault, I think it rests in this observation and conclusion:

According to my understanding of netiquette, capitalization stands for SHOUTING. There are other uses of capitalization, like in legal documents or for book titles, but I think they aren't very relevant.

A single word capitalized in an advertisement is NOT the same as shouting, and I don't think there's much more to say on the matter.

That all said, I did find this aspect of the question rather interesting:

I often receive requests to capitalize free across an entire Web site I'm responsible for.

I don't think the question's closure was an injustice, but I don't think there's any harm in reopening it, either. The rules are there for a reason; questions getting closed and reopened is part of life on the Stack Exchange network.

  • 4
    "The meaning of free doesn't change after it gets put into upper-case letters." - this might be a good answer to the question. After all, the entire scope of ELL is for questions that are obvious to native speakers, but are difficult for learners. Feb 18, 2013 at 0:42
  • @bytebuster: If the question gets re-opened, I might add an answer there. Thanks for your comment.
    – J.R. Mod
    Feb 18, 2013 at 0:44
  • A Daniel come to judgment. Feb 18, 2013 at 2:09
  • @StoneyB What does it mean?! A Daniel...? Feb 18, 2013 at 11:45
  • 3
    @user37324 It's a quotation from The Merchant of Venice, an approbation of a well crafted judicial opinion, referring to the drafter of the opinion as the Biblical Daniel. Feb 18, 2013 at 13:01
  • +1. For adding a new thing to my English knowledge! :) Feb 18, 2013 at 13:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .