It seems to me that some native speakers who are not teachers sometimes fail to understand OP's questions.

I'm making reference to this question.

Being a teacher, it was clear to me from the beginning that by "greet" OP meant "wave". It does take some effort and skill to read a student's mind, but this does not seem to be appreciated.

OP immediately accepted my answer and gave me an upvote, which showed my interpretation had been correct, but then two (envious?) users decided to downvote, for no apparent reason. I thought it might be that I had copied a couple of screenshots without knowing it was not advisable for readability reasons, but after transcribing the texts in question, the downvotes subsist.

I find this to be highly disconcerting and discouraging, although I'm well aware that SE is very often like that. Any reasonable user who could kindly give some explanation?

  • 3
    Some of these guesses are frankly implausible. I think it's highly unlikely anyone downvoted out of envy, for example. Anyway, you posted this about an hour after editing your post, and it doesn't seem likely that all three downvoters had seen your post by that point. Maybe give it some time? In the meantime, I've added a bounty to this MSE proposal, because I'd really like to see some way to encourage people to come back and remove downvotes after edits go through. I think a lot of the time voters never see the edits.
    – user230
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 8:02
  • 3
    I downvoted because of the screenshots, and mentioned it in a comment. I didn’t check back until about a minute ago, and I reversed my vote. You pinged me in a comment, but you deleted it before I saw it, so it was removed from my inbox. Screenshots of text without transcription are an automatic DV from me. Other folks may vote differently. Text in images can’t be searched, won’t be translated when you give the URL to translation software, and won’t be read by screen readers. Answers need to be more than just correct in my opinion, they should try to reach as many learners as possible.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 12:36
  • @ColleenV I flagged your comment claiming it was no longer applicable, you removed the comment, but the downvote was still there. You can take as long as you wish, but removing the comment and reversing the downvote could have been simultaneous, don't you think? That was my reasoning and, seeing I was still being penalized, I was baffled.
    – Gustavson
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 12:45
  • 3
    Nope, a different moderator removed the comment. Flagging my comment notifies the mod team, not me.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 12:47

2 Answers 2


Couple of things:

  1. It doesn't seem to be the case here, but it's worth pointing out: It's the OP's responsibility to formulate a clear question with only one (few? but close) possible interpretations. If someone felt like commenting "See if my answer addresses your question", then chances are they're guess-answering and whether or not they got it right that's really not how a thread should go in the SE model.

  2. Sometimes I stumble upon questions in the close vote queue where I understand what the OP means or where the source of their confusion lies, and that's when I opt to edit and clarify the post (Naturally, this happens more often on ELL). Of course, it needs some common sense not to edit too much, possibly deviating from the OP's intent, but if it immediately struck you why they asked about "greet to" and it was evident from the comments that some other people need some clarification, you could have edited the question.

  3. As snailboat points out in the comment, most downvoters do not see edits to the post. I'm unlikely to visit the same question again and if it was mildly interesting I might pay a second visit after the post 'updates' — reflected in the number of answers. Edits, however, don't change that number and only the small portion of users who use the active page and happen to see that post with a later activity before it's drowned by other activity will know an edit happened. I can easily say if I voted on an answer there's a <1% chance that I'll change it later.

  4. Last but not the least, people can vote however they like as long as it's not forming a pattern of fraudulent behavior (like targeting a user). While the real reason someone downvoted your post could be that they don't like your display image or they lost their keys it's best to assume good intentions. Occam's razor tells me they just couldn't match your answer to the question; they didn't feel like you're addressing OP's concerns. People also sometimes downvote answers to poor questions to discourage them, but I don't see any close votes on that question.

Four is still kinda a couple couple, right? ;)


For context, "wave someone over" is your interpretation and "greet people and invite them to the table" is what OP expressed in the post. To be clear, I'm saying they don't mean the same thing and I imagine the downvoters are saying the same.

I think the community does appreciate differing opinions and interpretations--when they make sense. I don't think it's a matter of "failing to understand OP's question". Rather, I think it's a matter of failing to be convinced by an answer. Ultimately, I figure that you received downvotes because your interpretation and what OP mentioned are not the same. If I wanted to allow some room for incorrect wording by OP, then I cannot reach your conclusion. For me, there is not enough evidence to suggest that OP meant "wave someone to the table". Nowhere in the post did OP mention any kind of gesture with the hand. I do not have any experience that tells me that learners confuse "wave" and "greet" (if you do, it doesn't hurt to mention that in your answer). They seem distinct enough that a typical learner would not confuse them. It's possible they really meant "wave", but I cannot determine that with what's given. Therefore, I would side with the downvotes. But that's just me.

I can understand trying to guess what OP's intended meaning is. But be clear about it. Say somewhere that you think OP really means what you wrote instead of what OP wrote. Furthermore, instead of assuming you have the correct interpretation--instead of guessing at all--why not ask OP what they meant?

  • What do you mean by "greet"? Do you mean a kind of gesture with the hand?
  • Can you clarify the situation? What's the context? What is happening?

Or request whatever clarification it is that you want. Sure, sometimes readers, regardless of their background, misunderstand the question. But that's why we have the ability to ask for clarification. That's also why we insist that askers provide plenty of context. That way, everyone's on the same page, and OP receives an accurate answer that is verifiable.

Regarding the "accepted answer", it does not always mean your interpretation was right. The check mark could mean any number of things from "this completely answered my question", to "I thought I wanted X, but your Y seems better", to "eh, I don't really care, this seems good enough". Sometimes, it could be the case that OP mistakenly believes that an incorrect answer correctly answered their question. So, there's the possibility that your interpretation was wrong, but OP thought it was better. There's also the slim chance that you've convinced OP that the two phrasings are equivalent.

As for votes not being reversed in a timely manner, well, that's just how it plays out. It could take several hours, or even days, for your net votes to become positive, or for a downvoter to retract or reverse their vote. Downvoters might forgot to revisit the question and answers all together. That's just how it is. In general, you can't expect reversals to happen within a couple of hours (from the time you edited to the time you posted here). If it's deserved, give it some more time.

  • I just edited my answer explaining the difference between "greet" and "wave", which I'm sure OP was confused about. As for the "accepted answer", in this particular case I know OP found my answer replied the question. I have almost 40 years experience as a teacher in a non-English-speaking country, and that gives me enough authority to infer some things that escape native speakers. This is what I claim should be valued at ELL.
    – Gustavson
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 12:36
  • theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/14/…
    – Gustavson
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 21:30
  • 1
    I found that to "wave someone over" is one way one can answer the question. I agree that the OP was slightly confused or didn't express himself or herself well and the answer given is fine albeit very restricted in usage. It's perfectly fine as one interpretation to a confusing question.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 15:55

You must log in to answer this question.

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