I'm pleased to introduce our newest collaborative user effort here on ELL, the Canonical Post.

The idea behind Canonical Posts is to take a subject which is often encountered by English Language Learners and create a post which thoroughly explains that topic. The goal is for these posts to be as useful and easy-to-understand as possible, so feedback is greatly appreciated, especially concerning areas which we could improve. Please do leave comments on the posts with any thoughts or questions you may have.

Without further ado, I present our first Canonical Post: Canonical Post #1: When to Trust Your Grammar Checker.

The next post in our lineup will be by the illustrious StoneyB, on the subject of Perfect Constructions. This one is still in the works, but we'll let you know when it goes up. Look forward to it!

We also welcome any suggestions as to the topics for future Canonical Posts, as well as volunteers to write them! Is there a subject that's been confusing you for a while that you would appreciate a post on, or something you've been itching to write about? Post them here! We'll review the suggestions and get in contact with those interested in contributing. Remember, like everything on ELL, this is a collaborative community effort. Thank you all for asking and answering and building this wonderful community—we couldn't possibly have done it without you!

If you'd like to be even more involved, feel free to drop by the Canonical Posts Chatroom anytime. The room is for free discussion of anything and everything Canonical Post-related, so come on in!

  • 4
    "illustrious" I'm dubious about; but I will do my best to be "illuminating". Aug 5, 2013 at 11:37
  • The initiative, if successful, could provide a lift for the number of site visits and a great source for who are learning the English language, +1.
    – user114
    Aug 5, 2013 at 14:55
  • So where do we volunteer to write stuff? Of all the stack exchange websites, I like helping here, EGU, and Writers because writing is my passion. Aug 5, 2013 at 21:42
  • @lonehorseend Right here! Your comment is good enough to denote your interest :) But if you like you can post an answer as well, perhaps with any ideas you have on topics you'd like to write about? I'm so glad that we have a volunteer already! :) If we can match you up to a topic you're comfortable writing a post on, I'd be glad to pencil you in for post #3 :) But hey everybody: topics you'd like to read about are useful to post as answers too! Especially if you're a learner and have a topic you think would help you and others.
    – WendiKidd
    Aug 5, 2013 at 23:41
  • Write a canonical post about English articles (a, the).
    – mosceo
    Nov 18, 2013 at 2:17

4 Answers 4


This recent question on meta Canonical post on articles? and this recent question https://ell.stackexchange.com/q/80396/9161 made me dig up this thread to suggest a canonical post on prepositions of place. As I read over the "at versus in" question, I had an overwhelming sense that I had seen many good answers that covered on/in/at but when I went to go back to choose the best question to close the newer one as a duplicate, I realized that all that great information was scattered across many questions.

This question had the most up-votes Should I say "She is in the park" or "She is at the park"?, so it might be a good starting point.

Here's another in/on question that might be served with a canonical post on the topic: there was an accident on dam neck road / there was an accident at dam neck road


This is touchy, but I'd like to do one on swearing.

  • Linguists on swearing: Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language by Ruth Wajnryb, Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr, Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years by Geoffrey Nunberg
    – user230
    Mar 15, 2014 at 2:00
  • 1
    Be careful, though. You'll find people who believe discussing taboo language is itself taboo, and some of those people seem to reside on ELL and ELU. I imagine your idea might meet with some objection.
    – user230
    Mar 15, 2014 at 2:01
  • 2
    There is absolutely no doubt that such a project would meet objection. The very idea that it would really piss off some people almost makes the the concept more attractive. As in "Bring it!". Plus, honestly, "No publicity is bad publicity" The more people piss and moan, the more people will come here to see what the fuss is about. Mar 15, 2014 at 2:22
  • 1
    Ah . . . perhaps there might be a more tactful approach than "Bring it!"? :-)
    – user230
    Mar 15, 2014 at 2:24
  • Certainly. I can be good...when I try. Usually. Sometimes. Mar 15, 2014 at 2:24
  • I'm soon to post a Q&A on the meaning of "funnier than hell". My first draft is a bit blunt. I'm trying to soften it a bit as we speak. After that is posted, maybe we can look at the idea again with more info. Mar 15, 2014 at 2:34
  • The research will be great fun. I recommend Robert Graves, Lars Porsena, or The Future of Swearing and Geoffrey Hughes, Swearing: A Social History of Oaths, Foul Language and Profanity in English. Mar 15, 2014 at 2:41
  • Right now I am stuck with what's available on the Kindle (Hangs head in shame, I owe the library money...again) but I will look at all I can get my hands on. Mar 15, 2014 at 2:47
  • I think this is an interesting idea and could be a valuable resource, but as has been noted, it could stir up some debate. Might I suggest you post a separate meta post suggesting a post with this topic, and see what the community has to say? (I say this because a separate post will have more visibility.) If the community is in favor, I say go for it! :)
    – WendiKidd
    Mar 15, 2014 at 21:39
  • I actually started to do that and deleted it in favor of the answer here. I'll do that (the separate post) after the "funnier than hell" Q&A has been up for a while. I'm just about ready to post it. At any rate, there is no rush. I have research to do anyway. Another possibility is that I could write it, post it elsewhere (even just on Skydrive), and link to it. Mar 16, 2014 at 3:00
  • @jolene No, if the community is in favor of it I'd love to have it posted to ELL as a canonical post! :)
    – WendiKidd
    Mar 16, 2014 at 3:02

Another topic I've come across that might be worth writing a good explanation of is the differences between using a gerund and an infinitive. I was looking to see if there were any duplicates for Why do we use 'telling' in the following sentence? and I found a lot of questions, but not really a lot of good comprehensive answers.

  • I think that sounds like a great idea! Would you be interested in writing it? :)
    – WendiKidd
    Feb 19, 2016 at 23:28
  • @WendiKidd I thought about putting together a strawman, and realized that most of the time I have no idea why I choose a gerund over an infinitive when I'm speaking. If someone with more expertise than I have would tackle it, I'd probably learn a lot!
    – ColleenV
    Feb 21, 2016 at 23:58
  • 1
    Choice of complement type is determined by the predicate (verb, adjective, or noun) of the clause. Each one has its own set of rules, exclusions, exceptions, and idioms. There is no single answer, just as there isn't for articles. Jun 25, 2022 at 15:29

I'm thinking about one on "Writing in Context," or "How to help us give you the answers you need." This topic is at the forefront of my brain because so many questions that I answer fall into the contextual category, meaning that someone will give a good example and other times it will be just I've heard this phrase, so how do I use it? Also, I'm thinking it could be expanded so that the distinction between ELL and ELU can be defined in such a way that people understand it. I've seen a few times where people post in both places or the post in one when they should have posted in another.

What do you think?

  • 1
    These are definitely important things for the community to discuss, but they're more akin to meta topics than a post on the main site. A Canonical Post is directed at helping someone learn English better, or understand a difficult topic encountered by learners. If you want to write something up on meta about "Writing In Context", I think that would be a very useful post. But it's about "how to use ELL", not "how to learn English", so it would fit better on meta than in a CP.
    – WendiKidd
    Aug 15, 2013 at 20:54
  • 1
    Re: ELL/ELU, there are currently rules of thumb to determine where questions go (check out both sites' FAQs). If you're seeing questions you don't think are in the right place, please do raise a meta discussion about it. But for a CP, we need a "learning English" topic. We can try to brainstorm one here in comments, if you like. I'd hoped we'd get more suggestions from learners for topics, but that hasn't happened as yet.
    – WendiKidd
    Aug 15, 2013 at 20:55

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