In this answer, Liam W said [emphasis added]

'A Japanese' infers the Japanese person is a thing, and not a person. This is what deems it offensive.

'A Japanese Person' infers the Japanese person is just that - a person, and is therefore considered fine for use.

While not wanting to go this far in using simple words, should we try to use simple and common words that are easily understood by people learning English?

An exception to this would be technical terms to do with English, such as "split infinitive". They should still be used, because it is easier to google for "split infinitive" than "boldly putting a word between "to" and the verb".

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    The site is not about Simple English.
    – apaderno
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 9:41
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    @kiamlaluno I never used the phrase "Simple English" in this question!
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 9:44
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    I hope the OPs will be courageous enough to ask follow-up questions if they don't understand something about an explanation, rather than accepting it blindly. Personally, I think everybody should use the language they are comfortable with. Sure, it makes little sense to show off one's vocabulary on purpose, but neither does it make sense to purposely dumb it down. If everyone around me kept using the same ten-odd words to express everything, I'd never have learned anything. If I don't know a word, you don't fix that by not using it. But this is a good question. I wonder what others think.
    – ЯegDwight
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 13:30
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    My problem with that example is not that it's using complicated words, but that it's using the words incorrectly. Or is that your point, too?
    – Martha
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 15:03
  • See also: meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/8/… Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 15:26
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    @Martha: If by it's using the words incorrectly you mean you think implies should be used instead of infers, I absolutely agree. If not, what do you mean? Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 19:59
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    @FumbleFingers: exactly, plus deems should be makes (or the sentence rewritten - "This is what makes people deem it offensive").
    – Martha
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 20:23
  • @Martha: Ooops! I missed that other one! I don't have a strong opinion about the "complicated words" issue being raised by OP here, but I definitely think those "manifestly incorrect" usages should be fixed - and have just posted to that effect here. Mind you, the infers/implies one could be just a little tricky - I'm not going to stake my life on it (or try to research it), but I suspect infers may be "marginally" valid as an archaic/obsolete/dated usage. Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 23:11
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    @AndrewGrimm It was a a joke. (The joke that answering to questions about Simple English doesn't mean to use simple words.) Jokes apart, there isn't really the need to use simple English words. If somebody doesn't understand a word, s/he can ask in a separate question, or in a comment.
    – apaderno
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 1:00
  • Guilty as charged. I write the way I talk, and I talk like a pedantic geek :) Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 0:20

6 Answers 6


Any time we write, we should keep our audience in mind. Writing simply and clearly is always a good writer's goal – no matter what they are writing about, and no matter who they are writing to.

As I write on ELL, I'll be assuming that the primary audience is intelligent adults; I plan to write accordingly. That said, I'm also aware that many members of this community speak English as a second or third language, so I'll try to be careful to clarify terms that might be hard to interpret.

That said, I think we do a disservice to the members here if we try to oversimplify the words we use. Presumably, many of them are here to improve their English. I always avoided "baby talk" when my children were younger, figuring that if I always spoke to them as if their vocabulary was limited, their vocabulary would remain limited. In a similar way, I don't think we should worry too much about restricting our language to "simple words." Deliberately using esoteric vocabulary would be a mistake, too, but that's true whenever and wherever we write.

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    Truly support your reasons. While english is my 2nd language,sometimes I don't get what you guys speak sometimes (not word, but a piece of construction or a particular phrase), but then it pushes me to ask the speaker to clarify. This helps me improving my sense and sometimes vocabulary (Like I came to know about Esoteric here). So using "simple English" is welcome, but a slight infection of newer words ornaments the writing!
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Jan 27, 2013 at 8:47

Do not avoid them in contexts where the meaning can be inferred from that context. That is the best way for users to learn them!

OTOH, definitely avoid them if not knowing their meaning will make given answer confusing - when the meaning is not apparent. Alternatively, reiterate, rephrase the same thing using simpler terms to make it clear.

In the example case both bolded words are used in context that makes their meaning fairly apparent, so there is no harm in leaving them in.

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    Unhappily, both words are misused there! Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 0:14
  • To be specific "infer" is used when "imply" should be, and "deem" means conclude or belive, so only a thinking being can deem something. That part would either need to substitute "makes" for "deems" or significantly;y rewrite the sentence. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 2:53

I think we should use technical terms, but make sure that they are explained, and not go too overboard to the point of making the answer sound like it came from an academic journal.


I think that the example is a borderline case:

Certainly, the content could be expressed elegantly enough without using the words "infer" and "deem". They do not add better precision or explanation.

On the other hand, for me, the answer (and the question) was new and surprising and I really learned something, and yet I have no problems whatsoever with words like "infer" and "deem".

So, I would advice that one should use words that are understood by most people who would actually be interested in the answer to the question, but this is probably the case here.


Yes, where possible, I think it is best to answer with the simplest words available. Use simpler sentence structures, and a smaller range of words. But I would suggest that technical terms to do with grammar should be used freely, since that is what people are often here to learn about.

The particular example given is just bad though: infers and deems are used incorrectly.

  • I think that encouraging a simpler, less formal way of writing might keep some authors from using words they don't have a good handle on just to sound more formal and learned. I don't think we should discourage people from using less common words to express themselves or limit the vocabulary that's "acceptable" for an answer to some arbitrary collection of "simple" words.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 14:34

Coming to think of it and now that I have been using this site for almost three days, it makes sense to me that simple language should be highly preferred here simply because of the fact that we can expect to see "a lot" of foreign-language visitors here and more we make it simple for them to "comprehend the answer" more the better.

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