In the FAQ, there is a part about the questions that should not be asked, and which says:

  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: "I use ______ for ______, what do you use?"

Does that mean that every subjective questions, where the OP provide what s/he think an answer in the question itself should be avoided?

I imagine those questions could be seen as polls (e.g. "I think it is so; do you think the same as me?") but I can also imagine questions where the OP asks about using a phrase, for which its usage is subjective, and for which the OP provide what it is a possible phrase, maybe because s/he has doubt about that phrase.

Vice versa, I can imagine a non subjective question similar to "What is the category of this word in the following sentence?" for which the OP says which category s/he think applicable to the word (without saying why), and s/he is right.

How does this part of the FAQ apply to questions asked on ELL?

3 Answers 3


I actually have seen fewer questions of the sort the FAQ describes than I expected: our questioners have mostly been pretty good about describing actual problems ("I said this, but my friend/teacher/grammar book said it's wrong"), and when we do get an "I say this, what do you say?" it generally means something more like "I understand I should say this, but does it always work?" In SO terms, it's "I'm using this algorithm/tool/approach and it's worked so far, but what difficulties may I be creating for myself?"

The questions you describe seem to me to be of a different sort: "I think I've got this construction (or word, or parsing) right, can you confirm it?" That sort of question is routinely slammed on ELU with a "What makes you think there's anything wrong with it?"; but here, I think, a different response is called for. We know why the askers think there might be something wrong: because they don't have enough familiarity with the language to know. We're not being asked for interesting alternatives; we're being asked for expert judgments.

I think the proper response is

  • If the asker's got it right, a) confirm that it's right, b) reinforce the lesson by providing additional examples, and c) expand the lesson by pointing out limitations--instances where the word or construction can't be used, or the parsing may be misapplied.

  • if the asker's got it wrong, a) figure out where the misunderstanding came from ...

    • This, by the way, is very difficult for native speakers, who mostly have never had to consciously learn many points which arise here. It's hard to think of the air you breathe as something alien and frightening ...

    b) explain the misunderstanding and show how the situation in question differs from the assumptions the asker has brought to it, c) give a correct answer, with appropriate analysis, and d) drive the lesson home with additional examples.


I don't think your conclusion applies to that FAQ entry.

That FAQ bullet simply means that you shouldn't ask questions that you might ask of a general support group. For example:

  • "When I get stuck for a word, I use book {X}. What do you use?"
  • "I still have trouble understanding {X}. What was your most difficult-to-understand concept in English?"

But when an author is simply providing "what s/he think an answer is in the question itself", that's simply showing prior effort and research. That's a good thing. It helps other users understand what has already been tried, and what further information (specifically) will help the original author.


I think part of the problem is that "use" has a slightly different meaning with "I use "Hello" in formal situations", compared to "I use "Emacs/vi" when programming". This may be slightly confusing to non-native speakers.

I think it should be edited to something less ambiguous, such as "I look up {X} when checking the spelling of the word, what book do you use?".

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