It strikes me as "ironic" (whatever that means! :) that we often get questions asking how something should be "correctly" expressed, where the question itself gratuitously includes irrelevant "incorrect, non-standard" forms. For example, this recent question asks:

Can I say I am gonna go Amazon shopping when I want to buy stuff on Amazon?

I realise that in many cases it may be better to leave minor "errors" untouched (so long as they don't present problems in understanding the text), because they can provide useful clues for other users as regards the OP's general level of competence in English.

But it's my belief that even though most competent native speakers will often use the contracted forms (gonna, wanna, sposta,...) in speech (and perhaps in certain written contexts, unless "autocomplete" features make this more trouble than it's worth, as with some smartphones), they don't do this anywhere near as often in potentially more "formal" contexts (such as asking a question on an SO site).

So my question is:
How does the community at large feel about "tidying up / standardizing / sanitizing" somewhat "slovenly" usages such as the example above?

My own feeling is that non-native speakers are prone to overuse what they probably think of as "naturally colloquial" orthography such as that. And more specifically, they may not fully appreciate that for many native speakers, such "non-standard orthography" is effectively a "literary device" used to imply low educational or social status of a speaker (this sort of thing gets more tricky to interpret in text-based contexts like SO, but the general implication still holds).

Unless people post up/downvoteable "Answers" setting out how we should proceed, feel free to upvote my question if you think we should incline more towards "improving" text such as that example (as we would normally do with spelling mistakes, and certain other "errors, shortcomings" that don't directly relate to the issue being queried).

(Just downvote this question if you don't think we should consider making changes in this area.)

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    In the example, it’s worth mentioning that the question is really about a perceived ambiguity in “going Amazon shopping”, so changing “gonna” to standard English doesn’t have any impact on the question other than to possibly improve how it is perceived. “Sloppy” language like that may cause some folks to skip answering an otherwise worthwhile question.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 15:58
  • @ColleenV ("partedways", boohoo! :) Indeed. But I must admit I thought since the specific point being queried (go Amazon shopping, as opposed to go shopping on Amazon) inherently included another slightly different use of go, that made it even more "egregious" to me. It wouldn't have be so irritating if gonna had occurred somewhere else within the overall question text, but having it (syntactically irrelevantly ) included in the actaul sample text being held up for analysis / approval was just enough to prompt me to raise the issue here. Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 16:39
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica I concur. There is something else though. I think it is important to point out to the OP (in comments) why we edited their "gonna/wanna". This will help communicate our expectations not only with the OP but with the community too.
    – AIQ
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 21:48
  • If we perpetuate such slovenly language, our learner visitors will learn slovenly language. Surely we are then failing in our purpose here.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 17:50
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    @Chenmunka: Well, undeniably at least some of those learners are more interested in knowing how native speakers actually express themselves (in speech and/or writing) than how we're supposed to (sometimes, according to "over-prescriptive" grammarians). So I'm certainly not proposing that we should mindlessly edit out all syntactically / orthographically questionable usages - it's more a question of where (or perhaps whether) to draw the line. Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 18:05
  • I accept that. However, I suggest we should have proper written English where the question doesn't ask about slovenly use. Then comment that other forms of the language do exist in practice.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 19:01
  • My answer to ell.stackexchange.com/questions/167540/you-gonna-vs-youre-gonna/… is directly relevant
    – James K
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 21:04
  • Is “slovenly” an appropriate general reaction to these errors? Some (or many) may indeed result from a lax attitude and lack of reasonable care, but others will be the unintended lapses of a learner or misreading of communication norms, as you mention. Lapses that the OP might even be embarrassed about, once they are pointed out. I’d expect to find errors of this nature commented on and corrections suggested as an aside, but I’d not be entirely comfortable with unilateral “improvements” and “tidy ups” magically appearing. Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 4:08
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    @OrbitalAussie: Is “slovenly” an appropriate general reaction to these errors? That is indeed my question. Where like you I put the word in scare quotes (and hedged it with the word somewhat). But hopefully it's clear that I'm not suggesting the way forward is to endorse a general policy of unilateral “improvements” and “tidy ups” - it's more a matter of Should we incline more towards editing out the most egregious examples of "non-standard" usages? (in terms of vocabulary, syntax, orthography,...). Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 13:41
  • What "incorrect, non-standard form"? (Later labelled an "error".) Error according to ... you? ... As has been said: "What is going on here is a universalising of one person’s taste, a demand that everyone should agree with it and conform to it." See p 7: cambridge.org/assets/linguistics/cgel/chap1.pdf ... "Asking a question on an SO site" is "potentially more 'formal'"? More formal than what? If one wanted to ask informally? Who do you think you are? Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 11:00
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    @JimReynolds: Adapting Orwell for our language context, All registers are equal, but some registers are more equal than others. You'll notice that I specifically referred to potentially more formal contexts, and the only two instances of the word "error" in my question appear alongside "minor" and "shortcomings". So as to Who do you I think I am? - obviously I'm someone who doesn't like to stick his head too far above the parapet! But equally obviously, I'm someone whose intuitions re "contextually appropriate" phrasing are on average better than many/some ELL question posters. Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 13:02

2 Answers 2


This question is really easily solved.

gonna, wanna, shoulda, etc. etc. are really examples of transcribing speech sounds into written form in non-phonetic or phonemic terms.

The question is this: Do all non-native writers realize they are doing this? (I assume most native speakers do.)

There may well be "self-taught" English speakers who do not even realize that this is.

If we had an icon or button in the space where questions are posed where original posters could signal whether their question is for speech or writing, this could easily be cleared up.

Often, what is acceptable in speech is not acceptable in writing.

And all questions are either one or the other.

So,to answer this: How does the community at large feel about "tidying up / standardizing / sanitizing" somewhat "slovenly" usages such as the example above?

I would say that usages are never slovenly unless you are a television anchorperson,for example and you go around saying: What would you do if you would know?

Here on SE, people are either uninformed or use those forms (gonna, wanna, coulda) on purpose and, as I suggested,it might be a good idea to have a spoken/written button or icon.

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    I quite like this idea. It seems to me quite a lot of questioners would say their primary interest is in learning how to speak and listen to English with greater fluency, rather than how to read and write it. But if we don't know which way the OP is leaning on that score, we can end up giving irrelevant and/or pointlessly confusing answers. Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 13:12
  • Did you mean "Do all non-native writers realize that they are doing that" or "Do all non-native writers realize what they are doing"? Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 13:48
  • @aparente001 I fixed it. You could have.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 18:22
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    @Lambie - Sorry -- I couldn't. It said "Suggested edits are not allowed on non-tag-wiki posts on meta sites" -- whatever the heck that means.... Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 2:20
  • @aparente001 Ahhh. Yep, well, I guess we could edit the OP's tags, if we wanted to. So much busy work. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 18:14
  • I have no idea whether that would enable me to make an edit to your post because I don't understand the error message I got. But please remember, this is Meta, and editing rules and privileges are going to be somewhat different here. Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 19:22
  • @aparente001 I realized that I don't understand what it means either.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 20:05

When a child is learning to talk, she/he makes mistakes. Yet, when we respond, we focus primarily on the content -- the message the child was trying to convey. At the same time, we also want the child to learn to speak more effectively. So what do we do? We can rephrase the question, indicating with our tone of voice and body language, that we want to check whether we understood correctly. Or we can incorporate the correction naturally into our response. In other words, we can model proper English (or Spanish, in my case -- I've always spoken Spanish with my children) in our response. This is a non-humiliating way of helping someone clean up their English: responding to the content of what they are saying, and also demonstrating a well-spoken version of their fledgling attempts to communicate in our language.

This can be done with English learners as well -- either in person, or in writing, for example here at ELL.

Specifically: I fix spelling. I fix grammar and vocabulary and idiomaticity -- if it helps the reader understand what is being asked. If it's style -- I do not impose my own style on the other participant. If there's something I think the participant needs to know (for example, there's something in their style that might give, for example, a potential employer a bad impression), I provide feedback, as an addendum to my answer.

That's one approach. I'm sure it's not the only way of respectfully helping people learn and function better.

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    Yep, this is something language teachers often do :-) Great answer.
    – user230
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 12:33

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