There is currently an open question on ELL which has raised some completely off topic argument in the comments some of which are becoming unpleasant. One contributor is saying you shouldn't answer questions unless you have a deep knowledge of linguistics or are a grammarian. And two others, including myself, who maintain that, for English Language Learners you do not need such a specialised knowledge, but be fluent in English (probably a native speaker) and fairly widely read so you have a good vocabulary and a broad experience of written and spoken English.

I know one prolific contributor who is, I believe, a retired engineer like myself. He is highly rated and could, IMHO, become a moderator if he so desired. Other regular contributors include teachers, but none whom have specifically identified themselves as linguists.

What do you think? Should only linguists and grammarians answer questions on ELL? Or are we trying to help students of English by using our years of practical experience and a general education?

5 minutes later

I've just gone back to the question on ELL and most of the nastier off-topic comments have been removed along with our responses. But this doesn't change this question.

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    and how do we know that a user is a reliabe linguist or an experienced grammarian? Both ELL and ELU don’t require a specific degree to answer questions, they simply rely on a community system of up/downvotes that will tell which answers are appropriate and which are not.
    – user 66974
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 15:06
  • Hi PJ, I started to write an answer but then realized that this is probably a non-starter due to the Stack Exchange model, which I think encourages any community members to submit answers (and wouldn't allow limiting answers to a small subset of the community). If you think that it's worthwhile to have an answer, though, I could finish it and post it. Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 22:24
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    @MarcInManhattan My whole point was that one of the commenters to the question quoted on ELL was claiming "if you aren't a linguist or a grammerian then you shouldn't be answering here" or words very similar (I think you could work out who) and another commenter and I disagreed with him. At which point the discussion got somewhat unpleasant and has now been removed. My question was more to provoke discussion than set any rules. I agree with you, answers should be open to all and they should live or die by the up, down and close votes . So I would like to hear your views on the subject. Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 23:29
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    There are no requirements for answering questions beyond agreeing to the terms of service and the code of conduct (and answering in English obviously… not sure that’s spelled out in the TOS).
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 2:42

2 Answers 2


There should not be any qualifications to answer questions on ELL based on level of expertise. Here are some reasons, though I don't doubt that there are more:

  1. I've seen non-experts write some excellent answers, and I've seen "experts" write some not-so-good answers. Restricting answers to "experts" would not necessarily guarantee their quality.

  2. How would we enforce this? There is no way to know for sure who is connected to a particular account, and even if there were, I doubt that we'd want people to start submitting their credentials for verification.

  3. What counts as a "linguist" or "grammarian"? Is a degree enough? What kind of degree? Would professional experience count? What kind of experience? What about other people who could be considered knowledgeable on the subject, such as professional educators and editors? We could define standards, but I think that they'd be both subjective and controversial.

  4. This site gets dozens of questions per day, and I doubt that there are enough "experts" with the time and desire to answer a large portion of those questions.

  5. As noted in a comment, the Stack Exchange model is to rely mostly on voting to evaluate answers. Sometimes bad answers get upvoted and good answers get downvoted, but the system seems to work pretty well overall. ELL users can generally distinguish between good and bad answers no matter who writes them.

  • Yes, your 5) is true. That it how it works. However, I personally have experienced quite a few cases where everyone disagreed with me and I was right. [I am NOT saying by they way that I always am by any means.] So, this is a basic flaw of the points' system but there does not seem to be any way to resolve this conundrum. If these were rockets, they would crash. Cheers.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 19:12

Anybody not only should be able to, but can, answer questions on English Language Learners. We do not need to have qualifications!

However, our answers should be qualified!

So, we should make it clear whether something is from our experience, or from our learning, or best of all, if it is backed up by a reputable source.

The fact that there should be no bar to entry, in terms of answering, does NOT mean that one can present any answer. There is a close-vote reason for questions:

  • lack of research

One would have to be a complete numpty, and a hypocrite, to not expect the same level of diligence from an answerer. One difference for answers is that the diligence can be demonstrated by presenting evidence.

And, lastly, for all those learners and non-native speakers who have such excellent contributions to make. Please make them! Native-speakery is often no indication of accuracy in answers. And furthermore, non-native-speaker folks often have so many more nuanced insights than native speakers, and a more profound and more wide-ranging understanding of the grammar.

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