As per the site rules the "English Language Learners Stack Exchange" is for people who:

are learning


teaching English as a foreign language.

According to the descriptions given above, ELL addresses mainly two very different audiences:

1) learners, who are mainly non natives, whose knowledge of the English language may differ considerably.

2) teachers whose knowledge of the language is supposed to be quite good.

Given the wide spectrum of potential users the questions posted on ELL may reasonably vary from simple to quite complex.

I'd like to focus on the lower part of the range, on those "simple" questions that a learner who is still unfamiliar with the English language is expected to ask.

According to the site rules users are supposed to:

make an effort to research their questions before posting it, and be sure to add as much detail as they can when explaining your problem. The more they can tell us, the better answers they'll receive!

Now, in the case of beginners how much basic can questions be to be considered on topic? Is the following question for instance within the site standards? What research should the user present in this case if any?

  • Related discussion: Details Please
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 13:22
  • 1
    I live in a place where the English proficiency of even professional English teachers varies greatly. I know of many English teachers here (both in private and government schools) who have a quite poor knowledge of English. (Grammar, syntax, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.) Many of these teachers could benefit greatly from using ELL.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 10:34
  • @Fiksdal Then encourage them to visit! No only do we need more good questions, but we would be helping their students as well. Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 0:30
  • @P.E.Dant Don't know many of them very well personally.. Will have to tread carefully as to avoid offending them. I doubt many of them are aware of their own limited proficiency.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 0:34
  • 2
    @Fiksdal You seem to be a clever fellow. How about suggesting that they visit to answer questions? Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 0:38
  • @P.E.Dant Haha, not a bad idea :)
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 0:39

1 Answer 1


I know that this has been discussed before, but it still seems interesting and important to me.

Every response to your question will be subjective, and anyone who considers whether to answer a question at ELL will necessarily have a personal standard against which questions are judged. I try (and sometimes fail) to ask myself two questions when considering a question:

  • How can the quærent most benefit from this question?
  • Will this question and its answers benefit those who consult the Q&A database in the future?

My personal belief is that a quærent should at least know how to conjugate a regular verb in English. Likewise, when a quærent poses a question regarding common nouns and adjectives whose meanings are easy to learn by consulting a dictionary, that question and its answer may not be useful additions to the database whose compilation is the stated goal here. The quærent will most benefit by being encouraged to look up a word in a dictionary, and in those cases I ask in commentary whether the quærent has done so.

If the question includes research which makes it clear that the dictionary was consulted, but tells us that the meanings found there leave the quærent still puzzled, that checks another box for me. If it looks to me as if other learners might find the given usage or dictionary definition confusing even after they have consulted references and pondered the question, the question then has potential value not just to the quærent but to those who will follow.

In the example you cite, the quærent seems not to know how to conjugate a regular verb in English, and to me, that makes the question too basic to benefit later quærents. If he had presented an example in which he found the construction We...loves, and noted his research shows that the 1st person plural ought to take the form love in the present tense, that might have made the question "non-basic" enough.

  • This is indeed a very important question to ask, but a very broad one to discuss effectively. These days, the thing that most disheartens and disappoints me about ELL is what things get answered.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 18:25
  • @Rubisco Right you are! Thank the "reputation vampires" for that. This exposes a flaw in the reputation/voting model, and I can't come up with a solution. However, I do think we might consider empowering moderators to remove questions they deem trivial by fiat, and that any reputational points accruing to answerers of those questions would also be annulled in the process. A process for appeal and review could be part of this solution. (Before there is a flurry of comments in virulent opposition to this notion, let me state that I'm only blue-skying here. The idea may be hooey.) Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 19:06
  • I espouse the doctrine that the most important thing a new student of any language can do is to throw away her bilingual dictionary at the earliest possible juncture. One cannot learn to truly understand, speak, or read any language, unless one can think in that language. This is a necessary, and sometimes very painful step, but without it progress is almost impossible beyond an elementary level. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 7:29
  • 1
    @xxxxxx (wonder if I got the number of x's right) I don't have a problem with easy questions, not even trivial ones that much. I do have a problem with easily researched ones and it's coincidental that most of the easy ones are easily Googled. Sometimes it just doesn't take much effort to see that my 'has' vs. 'had' trifle has been asked a zillion times and it's all around the internet.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 6:21
  • Well said @Rubisco . The challenge is to encourage the quærent to research on her own, while not at the same time discouraging her from asking questions here. It's a subtle and delicate craft which I certainly have yet to master. Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 6:27

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