Sometimes an answer is just plain wrong. If there is no grey area and I allow the answer to stand without comment, I feel as though I'm a party to disseminating misinformation. Just downvoting doesn't always feel like enough, especially when there are already upvotes (I hate it when I see that).

When I comment on such answers I'm trying to help the answerer understand, so I will be as gentle as I know how to be. I don't want to be in any way discouraging. It's equally important (perhaps more so) to reign in the answer. People come here to learn. If a teacher tells a second grader that there are 12 ounces in a pound, that's potentially damaging. It's important to purge that wrong information ASAP from the child's mind. Yet here, learners answer questions posed by other learners. It's potentially discouraging to say, "That answer is incorrect", but it has to be done.

Recently I had this come up repeatedly in the course of just a few minutes. I looked at new answers to active questions and one was absolutely wrong. So I corrected the answer in comments. As it turns out, the person who wrote the answer was here. We had a back and forth in comments which we moved to chat. It took a long time to get through (thank you, you who know who you are), but I felt good about how we left things. Then I went back to active questions. Sure enough, right at the top of the board were a few poor answers and at least one wrong answer from the same person. Had I commented on every one of those answers, the guy would have (understandably) felt persecuted. Even worse, that perceived persecution would have been coming from a relative newbie here, the person I wanted to correct (repeatedly) has 10X my rep points.

I ended up just leaving my computer for the night, which felt like a rather selfish way to handle it. Does anybody have advice for me?

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    I think good answers are very important to this stack. I don't think that leaving incorrect answers around is a good thing. If you can improve or correct wrong answers, I for one, will quietly thank you. If it were one of my answers, please feel free to correct me. Afaict, you're gentle enough. Don't let the rep points discourage you. The way I see it, rep points, though related to good answers, don't guarantee correctness. They're just the results of participation. And correct answers are more important. Mar 13, 2014 at 4:37
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    Btw, another good way is to post a correct answer to the question you can see that there is no correct answer yet. Usually, correct answers will climb up and pass the incorrect ones eventually. Mar 13, 2014 at 4:46
  • Absolutely. Unfortunately I'm not a skilled writer, words sometimes fail me. I know what I want to say, but I can't always put the concepts into paragraphs that make sense. Oh well, I guess it's good practice. :) Mar 13, 2014 at 5:05
  • A great question! I find it really hard to come across the way I intend in written messages - especially while trying to stay within the character limit of comments! I try to make note of how other posters handle this situation and see if I can emulate their tone. But I'm often surprised at what people don't get offended by when it comes to very direct disagreement from others.
    – nxx
    Mar 15, 2014 at 0:53
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    Good question. I come out of a field where appallingly personal criticism is part of the job - "It's the 15th century, dear; try to keep your pelvis in front of your tits" - so I tend to be blunt. But lately I've been leading with "+0.9, but your second bullet ... " Mar 15, 2014 at 3:07
  • Awesome!!! Haha! Mar 15, 2014 at 3:13
  • @nxx, that's a point. I have bent myself into pretzel shapes to not offend, only to get the impression that I had no need to worry about it in the first place Mar 15, 2014 at 3:17
  • @StoneyB But you manage to be blunt without sounding unkind!
    – nxx
    Mar 15, 2014 at 14:04
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    @nxx Well, I am careful to edit out expressions like imbecile, cretin and ignoramus. But I still sometimes feel like there's too much "Get offa my lawn" in my comments. Mar 15, 2014 at 15:59
  • @StoneyB Haha. I will keep an eye out for those comments, but I don't think I've seen one yet from you that came off that way!
    – nxx
    Mar 15, 2014 at 16:02
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    @Jolenealaska Well, I wouldn't go as far as "no need to worry about it in the first place". See What kind of behavior is expected of our users? It says: "Be nice. Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated. Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you because we’re all here to learn, together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know, and bring your sense of humor."
    – user230
    Mar 16, 2014 at 19:03
  • There is that sense here. I love it. I don't know that I've ever seen any place on the internet where it is so true. Mar 16, 2014 at 19:08
  • "I'm sorry, but I disagree, and here's why" seems to work fairly well when someone gives an outright wrong answer. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who takes exception to the niceness of this approach is an imbecile, cretin and ignoramus. :)
    – BobRodes
    Mar 22, 2014 at 22:06

1 Answer 1


Lately there was quite a hullabaloo over comments that say, "This sounds off to me." I was wondered why these comments were being taken as insults. Then, I had an idea: I looked up the word off in a thesaurus. When I saw the results, I was a bit surprised: rotten, bad, putrid, rancid, sick, crappy, substandard. I wondered: Is that why this got blown out of proportion?

For the record, "That sounds off to me" is using Definition 16 at Macmillan:

off (adj.) strange, or unusual: Something about the way he talked was a little off.

Synonyms I expected to see would be words like: unfamiliar, uncommon, unconventional, peculiar.

What's my point? There will be natural, inevitable communication barriers at this site. Which leads me to two conclusions:

1) Sometimes it's hard to be polite, even when you're trying very hard to be polite. All it takes is for one word to be misinterpreted, and what was intended to be a helpful nudge might be taken as a rude slap in the face.

2) If you think you've been insulted or mocked in a comment, you probably haven't been. The users who frequent this site are people who want to help, guide, aid, and assist. Nobody comes here to mock someone for their poor English. In fact, most native speakers are quite impressed with the English skills of those who come here regularly. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Your English is much better than my Korean. (Or Polish. Or Farsi. Or Greek. Or Tamil. Or German. "Parlez-vous français, J.R.?" "Non!")

Yes, answers that are just plain wrong need to be corrected. I would urge the knowledgeable: comment, downvote, edit, rebut, upvote a better answer, or post your own, but do so with a spirit of helpfulness and civility.

Non-experts need to understand that ELL is a place where people can come to get accurate answers. If the site becomes populated with bad information, the overall value of the site will be greatly diminished.

Some are not native speakers, but they feel confident enough in their English abilities to try their hand at answering questions. This is commendable! Go for it! However, if you do, and you start to get feedback that might indicate your answer is not a good one, do not be offended, and do not go on the offensive. Accept the feedback for what it is: people trying to help you, and help maintain the site as well.

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