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Especially in international forums (which is essentially anything on the "InterWeb"), I find myself simplifying and even "bending" syntax rules to make English more understandable to non-native speakers. For example:

The fixture does not care what is the voltage or frequency.

Where I would traditionally have said: "The fixture does not care what the voltage or frequency is."

I feel that I am "bending" or even "breaking" the rules of syntax by saying "does not care what is the..." instead of "does not care what the .... is". Should I stick to the more traditional rules of English syntax, or is immediate and transient clarity more important than tradition here?

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    Simplify, by all means, but why encourage your readers to develop bad habits? You would be doing everyone a disservice. – Mick Dec 23 '16 at 16:16
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    Personally, I feel like this is a bit of a loaded question and thus, should be a matter of personal preference. But if you're asking our preference, mine is to stick with correct English. I'm usually of the philosophy that we should give non-native English speakers the rules before we show them how to break them. Linguistically, I'm also of the philosophy that a "beautiful translation" is better than a "faithful one." After all, if the non-native learner had wanted incorrect English, she could have just Google translated it. But what she can't Google is your brain, so that's why she asks :). – Teacher KSHuang Dec 23 '16 at 16:20
  • Personally, I'd use your "simplified but incorrect" version in almost all cases, except for very formal writing, because it's not only easier for non-native speakers to understand, it's also easier for native speakers to understand. On the other hand I also work with colleagues who are probably 75% not native speakers, so maybe I'm beginning to speak pidgin rather than English. – The Photon Dec 23 '16 at 18:08
  • Why would you want teach something that you know is incorrect, unless you want to spoof someone or want to spread #fakenews? English is not easy, no amount of "sugar coating" will change that, and they may need to learn the "correct way" at some point if they want to sound like a native speaker, so why not from the beginning? @StoneyB It's a good question for Meta – Peter Dec 23 '16 at 18:39
  • The purpose of the (SE:Electrical Engineering) forum wasn't intended to "teach English" or even "demonstrate 'proper' English". It was to answer questions about Electrical Engineering. I perceived that the OP was from India (or Bangladesh, etc.) where they speak their own variety of English. BUT right here in mid-comment, you have changed my mind. Maybe because of that fact I should have demonstrated "Proper English" (AmEnglish? BrEnglish?) – Richard Crowley Dec 23 '16 at 19:06
  • English learners from the subcontinent think that they need to use long words with Latin roots to sound educated. Please, please change their minds. Use short words wherever possible, but get the grammar right. – Mick Dec 23 '16 at 19:54
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    You can almost always change the wording to simplify. The fixture does not care about the voltage and frequency. The voltage and frequency do not matter to the fixture. The fixture ignores the voltage and frequency. Etc. – John Feltz Dec 23 '16 at 20:13
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The only "style" rule here is posts need to be in English. (This actually is true across the SE network, with a few exceptions like Japanese Stack Overflow: スタック・オーバーフロー.) Anything beyond that (for example, AmE vs. BrE) is up to your personal preferences.

My personal preference, as I've also said here, is to just write how I normally write. I'm a native speaker, and it's hard for me to tell what's "too complex" for non-native speakers. And if anyone has trouble understanding something, they should just ask!


I will, however, still strongly suggest that you use valid English, to the best of your ability. There's no reason to potentially confuse people with incorrect grammar. As people in the comments have pointed out, there are other, entirely grammatical ways to simplify your example.

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  • Indeed - the help center says specifically to write to the best of your ability when answering. If you write the way you normally write, and then do a quick review to rephrase or explain any idioms or slang, I think that is enough. Other community members can help identify potential problems, and sometimes that discussion might be as helpful as the answer. – ColleenV Dec 31 '16 at 13:30
  • @ColleenV Here on ELL, I link to the idiom's definition. J.R. does this (like here); I think I got the idea from them. Of course, on any site NOT teaching English, this would be annoying (or even insulting), so it's best to simply edit them out if you think there might be a problem. – Laurel Jan 11 '17 at 17:08

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