The question Which is correct? do they? or don't they? or have they or haven't they? was summarily closed for reasons that aren't clear to me.

Personally, I don't think it's necessarily obvious that the "polarity" of an assertion is "reversed" by adverbial elements such as hardly, rarely, seldom, and to my mind that's what the question is effectively asking about.

It's true the question as presented could also be seen as asking whether the tag question after They hardly have X should be have they? or do they? But there are no comments asking the OP to clarify whether that might have been his main concern (vanishingly unlikely, imho), so I doubt that was a relevant factor in the closevotes.

I think the question should be reopened. (Well - having answered it myself, I would, wouldn't I? :) But if there aren't another 4 users who agree with me, perhaps someone could at least present a convincing argument as to why it was simply dismissed as "Proofreading" or "Lacking in detail". At time of writing this request, I'm baffled by the closevoters rationale[s].

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    It's basically a question from a homework assignment with no explanation by the author of what they think about it, what they already know, why they're having trouble figuring out which ones are correct... The topic may be worthwhile, but the question is not the sort that I think we should spend time on. Compare to ell.stackexchange.com/questions/78193/… which at least tells us where the question is coming from.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 16:03
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    I'm one of the CV'ers and agree with ColleenV's and gotube's answers below. There was no research, no background, no attempt at a correct answer, no apparent effort, basically nothing besides "which is correct", which to me (and according to this site's official guidance, as I understand it) constitutes a poorly asked question. I'd certainly be happy to reconsider if it were improved. Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 22:53
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    I am another CVer, and my reasons were as for @MarcInManhattan. As ColleenV says, obviously a homework question reproduced verbatim, complete with a blank to fill in. Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 9:42
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    Everyone except me seems wedded to the idea that it's a "homework" question - presumably because it's presented in "multiple choice" format. Personally, I'm happy to assume the OP genuinely wanted to know something, and had done enough research to be aware that there were in fact four "reasonably feasible" alternatives for the tag question. I have to say that high-rep users (those allowed to closevote) and mods here on ELL seem more concerned with teaching querents how to correctly present questions, rather than helping them learn English. It's no wonder the site is sinking. Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 11:05
  • Cough cough... and my answer?? I'll wait an entire day and then cast my reopen vote.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 11:49
  • @Mari-LouA: Yours and David Siegel's were the only answers I felt I could endorse / upvote here! I think too many people here are looking for reasons to closevote, instead of focusing on helping others to learn English. I haven't gone looking for stats to back me up, but I also suspect the site's "active membership" has been falling off over recent years (more than can be explained by SO's lamentable treatment of Monica Cellio, which in any case is getting to be just ancient history by now! :) Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 12:53

5 Answers 5


I think the question should be reopened as soon as the author edits it to include the necessary detail. For example, they could answer questions like:

  • What do you already know?
  • Which answer do you think is most likely the correct one?
  • Are there any choices that you feel aren't correct? Why?

The goal here should be to teach someone how to write their question in a way that will be well-received so their next question doesn't get closed. Leaving poorly-formed questions open just leads to more of the same type of questions, which frustrates the people who are getting their questions closed, the people who are trying to curate the site by closing questions that don't meet ELL's quality standards, and the people interested in answering those questions.

If the author just wants their homework done without needing to put in any effort themselves, the question should stay closed. If it's an interesting topic, then someone who would like to write an answer on that topic should ask a well-formed question and self-answer. That helps learners two ways; it answers a question they might have and it demonstrates what a good question looks like.

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    Now I see your point rather more strongly than before. Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 17:41
  • The question as formulated is very clear, it's perfectly formatted too. You're criticising the OP's lack of effort and research. Perhaps worthy of a downvote or better still a comment asking the OP to clarify.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 21:07
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    @Mari-LouA No, a downvote of a brand new user because they don’t know the well-established guidelines for asking a question on SE is not a better solution than putting the question on hold until it is improved.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 22:48
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    a downvote coupled with a comment, or just a comment by itself explaining the guidelines is faster and more likely to be efficacious. I doubt the OP will come back but we'll see.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 0:16
  • @DavidSiegel - I see congratulations are in order. I am glad that my election vote was effective. Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 9:44
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    The primary goal should be to provide querents with the answers they seek, not to teach them how to present questions. Imho the only reason we have guidelines for presentation in the first place is to help ensure we clearly understand exactly what information the querent seeks. Who are all these "litte Hitlers" who think they have the right to judge querents for not devoting enough effort to "prior research"? (For some querents, the mere fact of raising a question here on ELL might be seen as making an effort! :) Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 11:13
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    @FumbleFingers You know who they are, and I think all are experienced posters here who have made significant contributions to ELL. You might well think they are being overly strict, but IMO "little hitlers" is over the top. You forget, or don't mention, ELL's other function, to build a searchable resource to help future querents. Well-asked questions should b easier to search and help elicit good answers for the future as well as the present. Colleen V is urging that questions with too littel efort will draw other such questions, drowning out Qs to which better answers are likely. [...] Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 16:13
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    [...] @FumbleFingers I do not feel as strongly as she does on the matter, but she has a point, IMO. I don't think anyone is proposing rules for the sake of rule, or for a sense of control. Perhaps strictly enforcing our agreed-to rules is counterproductive, it is not malicious, as your comment seems to imply. Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 16:15
  • @DavidSiegel: I think a fair number of questions that get asked here and are not closed are almost completely irrelevant to the process of learning English. I also think that the standard SO search facilities are almost completely worthless in the context of ELL and ELU, so the goal of establishing a searchable database is a pipe dream. I make some effort on that front using Google's "site specific" search - specifically, I searched for earlier questions regarding tag questions after hardly, seldom, rarely and was quite surprised that I couldn't find any.... Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 16:28
  • ...so I take a dim view of the fact that when I attempted to correct that omission, my efforts just got kicked into the long grass! I wish now that I'd just answered in a comment,, and responded vitriolically if I got another formal email ticking me off for breaking "site rules". Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 16:30
  • This is what happened: by editing the question earlier you ensured that it entered the reopen review queue, and without waiting even 24 hours you and two other users voted to keep the question closed. You said "…putting the question on hold until it is improved." but what second chance did you give to the user? As soon as the Q entered the reopen queue you closed it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 14:34

The question was closed for two reasons by five votes from regular users, (none from mods).

First reason:

This question should include more details than have been provided here. Please edit to add the research you have done in your efforts to answer the question, or provide more context. See: Details, Please.

The question is an unadorned homework question. No effort has been made to find an answer or say what the OP already understands. In terms of context, is this question from a reputable standardized test or something their fly-by-night teacher cooked up?

Second reason:

Questions asking for someone to find and correct errors or improve the phrasing are considered requests for proofreading and are off-topic. Please edit your question to focus on something in particular that you are unsure about; if that's not possible, see websites for proofreading instead.

While the question is clearly about tag questions, the user doesn't say what issue they're having. Do they not understand tag questions at all? Do they not understand how the rules apply to this particularly difficult question? Did their answer disagree with the official answer?

Personally, I think the homework question is a great one for open discussion here so I'd love to see it reopened, but the quality of how it's been asked is unacceptable for our site.



I edited what I consider is a useful question for the community. Hopefully, it now clarifies where the problem lies and why learners might feel confused about question tags. I invite users to cast their reopen votes. So far it has attracted one good answer but I feel there is room for others.

We're on ELL. The requisites Colleen asks for would be great but in 70% of the questions posted–and I'm being generous here–they are always missing.

I'd definitely vote to close this if it had appeared on EL&U, it does lack effort and research but who cares if it's a homework question from an exercise book? As long as it's not a list of 20 questions just demanding answers, I say leave it be.

I'd give the OP a day to improve their question and explain their confusion but it's a perfectly valid and on-topic question. And Fumble Fingers' answer, which I upvoted because it mentions "hardly" having a negative meaning, doesn't encapsulate everything.

  • I just admire your positive and constructive approach.
    – user138449
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 22:11

I understand ColleenV's views. The question does indeed seem to be a HW question, with no additional emphasis, stated concern, or explanation. Still, my inclination would be to reopen and allow additional responses. Two days ago I would probably have voted to reopen, but I am unwilling to make a unilateral decision here, and I can't just turn off my mod diamond. So unless several others vote to reopen first, I won't. On a case I felt more strongly about, I might act otherwise.

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    Why do you want to feed the bears? We should encourage the author include the detail necessary to make it a decent question, and then reopen it once they do.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 17:14
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    ColleenV: The warning against "feeding the bears" is being over-zealously applied in his case. The example quoted in your link is obviously "homework", and it's not obvious that anyone stands to gain any real "knowledge" by seeing the answer provided here. But the question I'm asking about isn't necessarily homework anyway, and I'm in no doubt that even I could still learn something from it if it hadn't been dismissed. For example, I'd like to know why @Mari-Lou A says my answer there "doesn't encapsulate everything" - but that should be answered on the question itself, not here! Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 11:35

There seem to be two possibilities here.

The OP has this as their homework. I will not go over the issues of whether we should do their homework for them as it has been discussed at length elsewhere with no clear resolution.

The OP made this up do illustrate the problem they have (or think they have). My problem with the question if that is the case is that I struggle to see that any of the tag questions fits the sentence so without more information about why the OP made up that example we do not know what they have a problem with. This leads to a danger of providing a long answer to a question they did not have. I am reminded of the cautionary tale told by Alan Bennett of when his god-daughter asked him what vice meant. He swallowed hard and gave her an explanation of some of the seamy side of life. He then asked her why she had asked. "It is just because I have been made vice-captain of hockey."

Full disclosure: I am one of the original close voters.

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    Being someone who has taught English to private Italian students for over 30 years, I can guarantee you, 100%, that the question is copied verbatim from a textbook. It's a classic level B1 question that hundreds of students grapple with all over the world. it is written too well for it to be created ad hoc by the OP themself. It's one question, not an entire exercise, it's about grammar, and the sentence contains a negative adverb, which makes it more interesting and useful to visitors and learners.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 14:41

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