Consider the following question (invented by me by way of example):

Question: What is a word describing a person who is very, very clever?

Answer1: A genius

Answer2: brilliant

Clearly Answer1 is a noun and Answer2 is an adjective.

I have observed this confusion over and over again on various language websites yet users continue to ask this sort of question and other users go ahead and answer without asking for clarification.

It would be so easy to ask instead,

Q: What is an adjective describing a person who is very, very clever?


Q: What is a noun describing a person who is very, very clever?


Have others noticed this pattern?

Is there a way to rectify the problem? I can't think of one, apart from penalising people who answer without thought.

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    Doesn’t seem like a real problem, though. Usually learners just need the most natural way to express something, and artificial requirements like “I need an adjective” or “it has to be a single word” just make questions worse. – snailplane Mar 10 '19 at 19:04
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    In addition to what snailboat has said, if you don't feel that you have enough information to answer the question, you should leave a comment asking for the information and possibly vote to put it on hold as needing more detail. I think it's helpful to ask the author how they would like to use the word in a sentence there is so much more to choosing the right word than what part of speech it is. – ColleenV Mar 10 '19 at 19:35

Both of those answers work just fine. Eric’s a genius. Eric is brilliant.

I don’t see a problem with a learner having multiple options to choose from, especially when the person who asked the question may not be the only person who gets answers from the question.

Put another way, imagine this: The OP is wanting to write a sentence that goes something like this:

Eric is the biggest _______ I have ever met.

so he restricts the question to ask for nouns only.

Two years later, another learner is looking for a word to fit in this sentence:

Eric is the most _________ person I have ever met.

and stumbles across a question on Stack Exchange asking:

What is a word describing a person who is very, very clever?

Their initial thought is, “What a stroke of luck! I can just look through these answers.” But, alas, because the OP who asked the question initially said, “Nouns only,” the newcomer needs to ask yet another question, this time looking for adjectives.

So, I wouldn’t regard this as “confusion” just because one person leaves a noun, another person leaves an adjective, and maybe a third person leaves an idiom. Then again, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

By the way, I’m not saying that many single-word-request questions aren’t too scant on details. Many of them are.

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