The topic of correcting grammar in a question has come up before, and there doesn't seem to be a clear consensus. Some argue that it's better to leave things how they are, to give an accurate representation of the asker's English ability, while others suggest that it's important to have correct grammar on a site that is attempting to help people improve their English.

I can see the case for both sides, but another consideration that doesn't seem to have been considered is particular errors that keep coming up over and over. I am choosing to focus on one particular error of this type, although I'm sure there are others.

It seems to be quite common [1],[2] for non-native speakers to begin a question with "How to" even though it is incorrect in English. This is probably due to borrowing constructs from their native language.

Since it is such a common error1, it seems prudent to make the effort to correct it whenever possible, to aid learners in adopting the correct grammar.

Should there be a policy (or at least an encouragement) to edit question titles beginning with "How to" so that they use proper grammar?

1As of this writing, there are 3455 questions on ELL and Meta ELL with "how to" in the title, compared with 497 that use "how do I" or "how does one". Some of those may be false positives (e.g. "Can you tell me how to..."), but a quick perusal of the first few pages of results suggests that the vast majority are of the type discussed in this question.

See also:
When should I correct an ELL's grammar?
Is it really pointless to edit questions to use correct English on ELL?

  • 3
    I don't know that it's incorrect enough in English to spend time editing over 3K posts. Even native speakers use it pretty regularly and it's used in book titles all the time.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 21:52
  • 1
    @Catija In book titles, it's not used as a question. Nor do I know any native speakers that ask how to do something using "How to...". Your argument about editing 3000 posts makes sense, but you can't argue that it is in fact wrong. Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 23:00
  • 5
    How to V isn't grammatical as a complete sentence, but it is grammatical as a subordinate clause, and titles often have the shape of subordinate clauses. Your title, for example, is a subordinate clause. Fixing question titles beginning with "How to" is fine as a title, but it isn't a complete sentence, and there's no reason it needs to be.
    – user230
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 23:38
  • 2
    I appreciate what this answer has to say about the matter: How to do X is perfectly fine as a title. As far as I'm concerned, the simplest way to "correct" the titles we're talking about would be to remove the terminal question mark – that is, change How to understand "the way"? to How to understand "the way". Then, it's fine. But I also agree with Colleen that such minor edits would be better made by those with enough rep that the changes need not be reviewed.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 0:34

1 Answer 1


There is already a policy that states:

Any time you see a post that needs improvement and are inclined to suggest an edit, you are welcome to do so.

If you would like to spend your time correcting titles to correct the grammar, make them more descriptive and/or easier to search for, I would view that as a valuable contribution to the site. I would encourage you to do more than just fix the title though. If you're going to suggest an edit and ask folks to take time to review it, you should make a substantial edit and check the formatting of the question, the tags, and incorporate information from the comments if necessary.

Once you have earned the privilege to edit without peer review, you could just change the titles but it would be better if you reviewed the entire question to see if there are other things that could be improved.

  • There is already a policy. Is there a way to change it? Also, is this unique to ELL or does it originate from the stack exchange policies? Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 0:14
  • @Confused - To the best of my knowledge, the policy that Colleen has linked to is pretty much consistent across the SE network. See, for example, the Help Centers on Chemistry, Travel, and Cooking.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 0:23
  • @J.R. Thank you JR. My concern is that this stack exchnage is unique, because the grammar is part of the content itself, unlike the other exchanges, so perhaps this policy should be revised here. Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 8:43
  • @ConfusedSoul - I think the SE policy is just fine as the overarching policy. Specific cases (like the one brought up in this question) can be handled in meta.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 10:04
  • Perhaps you're right, perhaps it would be more settling to write site-specific policy. In this case, for now, shall we agree to disagree? Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 20:39

You must log in to answer this question.

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