This is what happened, for example, in What's the difference between words "number", "count", "amount" and "quantity"? The OP just says he doesn't understand when he should use two words, and the difference between them; he doesn't show examples of sentences where he would wrongly use a word instead of the other, nor does he explain why he is confused between those words.

Are such questions generally acceptable?

Without a specific case, those who answer have just two possibilities:

  • Report all the meanings those words have
  • Guess what exactly confuses the OP, and answer about that
| |
  • No, these questions should not be acceptable since they may get too broad to answer in specific circumstances. That being said, OP should always be requested for more information, his opinions, research(if at all), any specific usage scenario (for more focused answers) etc first, before downvoting the question. – Mohit Mar 7 '13 at 6:48

I have no problem with a user asking about the difference between two similar words. I don't feel like that's the issue here.

This particular question didn't have enough background information, and didn't include enough prior research. Consequently, there was no way to assess what was already known, or to discern where the confusion was.

Had more elaboration been provided (basic definitions, sample sentences, more precise information about where there was confusion, along with concrete examples), this question might be just fine. This problem – insufficient context – isn't unique to this kind of question.

Just my two cents, but if we ask, "Should we accept this type of question"? I think maybe we miss the main point. The real issue is "What do we do when an O.P. doesn't provide enough context for a meaningful response?" – irrespective of the kind of question it might happen to be.

| |
  • In fact, I was focusing more on the given context. Questions about the difference between two words are fine, especially because some languages use a single word where English uses two words (e.g. Italian doesn't use the equivalent of remind, and remember, but just the equivalent of remember). It just that answering the question doesn't need to become "guess the right answer." It is true; that is not a problem of that specific type of questions. – kiamlaluno Mar 8 '13 at 15:33

Without any context in the question, the best ELL users can do with such questions is to copy and paste from a dictionary. On StackExchange, there is a requirement that OPs to do at least some basic research before posting questions (ELL is not a luxury dictionary lookup service), this seems like all such questions should probably be closed as not constructive unless it is obvious what an ELL answer can provide beyond a simple dictionary lookup.

We should however be careful about over-generalizing. We should only be closing dictionary-lookup type questions as off topic - not grammatical (eg "Might" vs. "may". What's the difference?) or word-in-context (eg. When to use "no" and "not") type questions which might superficially look like "what is the difference between X and Y" dictionary lookup questions.

In brief, questions that show no research from the OP, and which ask a question to which the best answer is little more than a dictionary lookup should be closed as not constructive.

| |
  • 1
    In single word usage questions, I think whether the OP added example sentences using the word(s) in question should be required to keep the question from being closed. At least, the OP would be showing some basic research and/or attempt to understand the issue themselves. – user485 Mar 7 '13 at 19:55

You must log in to answer this question.

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