I've recently run into someone who managed to make an answer harder to read by adding too many "the/a" articles, which can sometimes be omitted in English under certain circumstances.

The and a pretty much are shorthand for this or any. And when a generic statement that applies to a wide category of objects is sprinkled with too many unnecessary occurrences of the or a, it simply makes it harder to read because it adds noise.

This is not the first occurrence of useless grammar beautification.

I propose that we:

  1. Forbid adding extra words to someone else's text unless it is marked as Community Wiki. Or at least make it so only the original author alone can accept suggested edits.
  2. Forbid useless reformatting (inserting of whitespaces, retabbing, moving brackets around, and such).


  1. When a word is clearly misspelled. So replacing somethings with something’s does not qualify. However, use th iz complir to fixit would qualify for editing.
  2. When the author failed to start a code formatting block properly (because she forgot four spaces, etc)


  1. The answer belongs to whoever wrote it, so you should not change it unless granted permission or unless there’s an “emergency” (like missing code formatting space or a major case of misspelling).
  2. By that logic, marking an answer as Community Wiki grants permission to everyone to modify that answer.
  3. Grammatical beautification is a waste of time that gives only the illusion of doing something useful. Time spent there should be spent on answering/voting on questions instead. Whoever can benefit from the answer will benefit from it even if an article is missing here and there. Overzealous proofreading text takes time and generally has a negligible effect on an answer’s usability. You pretty much waste ten minutes to save someone one second. Not worth it.

Alternative approach:
Instead of site-wide rules, it would be reasonable to have a profile checkbox that forbids any changes to your posts unless you personally approve them or unless those posts were marked as community wiki. By default the checkbox would be disabled.

The main reason why this change is suggested is that, with the current behavior I have to babysit every single answer I ever made when someone suggests an edit and check if their suggestion properly reflects the answer's original meaning.

Such behavior wastes a lot of time, and makes posting answers undesirable.

Therefore it would be reasonable to get rid of this "friendly samaritan" editing and restrict the available tools to "upvote", "downvote", "flag for deletion", and "write comment".

When information is frozen in place and you have a warranty that nobody is going to change the intended meaning to something you didn't have in mind, you can concentrate on problem at hand.

SO works the best as an information database, not when it tries to be Wikipedia or a newspaper.

  • 1
    Who judges when it's a major case of misspelling? – random Jul 22 '15 at 2:13
  • 5
    You are yourself the most perfect poster-child argument against your own posting’s ludicrous position, much better than anyone else could ever devise even if they tried. Bravo! Oh, and you’re welcome. Try using more articles next time. – tchrist Jul 22 '15 at 2:47
  • 7
    Plural vs possessive ("somethings" vs "something's") can be an important difference. Don't be so quick to discount grammar as useless. That's not how languages work. – Adam Lear Jul 22 '15 at 3:01
  • 2
  • How great is that I -1'd this as soon as I saw the title. 2kers have all the right to edit your post. Based on what assumptions do you assert that correct grammar distracts from content? – M.A.R. Jul 22 '15 at 8:45
  • 6
    @SigTerm There is no war: your postings were utterly full of grammatical errors, and therefore needed editing. Please try harder in the future to use correct English. Your missing articles were ungrammatical blunders that detracted from the quality of your postings. – tchrist Jul 22 '15 at 15:54
  • 4
    @SigTerm If you think that those answers are of no value, and that nobody is ever going to read them again, then you should go ahead and delete them. If, on the other hand, you think that those answer are potentially useful, and that people may end up wanting to read them at some point to solve a problem, then editing them to improve their presentation is helpful. – Servy Jul 22 '15 at 18:27
  • 3
    Allowing users like tchrist to earn the ability to fix problems with the language in other peoples' posts is probably the killer feature of the SE platform. No freaking way should it be hobbled like this. – jscs Jul 22 '15 at 20:22
  • 4
    It's been an integral feature of this Q&A format from day one. Grammatical edits do nothing but make questions and answers easier to find and understand -- more useful as Q&A, in other words. See also Why can any user edit any other user's question or answer? – jscs Jul 22 '15 at 20:35
  • 2
    Also closely related: Can I prevent others from editing my question? – jscs Jul 22 '15 at 20:35
  • 7
    This isn't "beautification", it's "understandification". Your post was harder to read, and thus was poorer communication, before tchrist edited it. The ideas you wanted to get across were actually being obscured by that lack of articles. – jscs Jul 22 '15 at 20:48
  • @JoshCaswell: Even in this case, a comment would've been better than directly editing post without any prior communication. – SigTerm Jul 22 '15 at 21:01
  • @SigTerm So it's too much work for you to just do nothing and let other people fix the very large number of grammatical errors in your post, but you have no problem with those users commenting on your posts to tell you that your posts has tons of grammatical errors that you should fix? Either that means you intend to ignore the comment, not fix the post, and thus leave the site's content in a worse state than if they had just fixed it, or you somehow think that it's less work to go around editing all of your posts to fix their problems yourself than to let someone else do it... – Servy Jul 23 '15 at 13:30
  • 1
    @SigTerm You realize that your whole premise of this post is that you are actively trying to make your posts grammatically incorrect, and are refusing to accept that fixing the grammar is improving the post. Clearly you have no interest in learning how to communicate more effectively. Heck, you've gone out of your way to vandalize your own posts by intentionally breaking the grammar. And you want people to spend time trying to teach you how to write better instead of just fixing the posts that you are intentionally breaking? – Servy Jul 24 '15 at 14:03
  • 1
    @SigTerm It's rather pointless to deny that you've done it when it's all there in the revision history. Heck, it's in the revision history of this very post. Someone edited it to improve the grammar, and you rolled it back. You've also rolled back lots of edits around the same time on posts of yours on the main site that were fixing grammatical mistakes that you had made. And again, you're telling people to spend considerably more of their time teaching you how to write better instead of just fixing your mistakes, because you don't have enough time to let them fix your mistakes. – Servy Jul 24 '15 at 14:53

Forbid adding extra words into someone else's text unless it is marked as community wiki. At least make it so original author only can accept suggested edit.

Forbid useless reformatting (inserting of whitespaces, retabbing, moving brackets around, and such)

How/who forbids this? Reviewers? Site scripts?

Reviewers already do (/should).
Site scripts are never going to be able to identify grammar being correct or not to the degree you want.

Same with your "exceptions" who or what identifies all this? how?

Answer belongs to whoever wrote it

See here

therefore you should not change it unless granted permission

We have permission, we give it when we sign up to the site.
The site is all about "community moderation", it's how it works well.

or unless there's "emergency" (like missing code formatting space or MAJOR case if misspelling).

Define "emergency". And even if you had a list of all potential "emergency" scenarios, who do we give them to?
Users to work by when editing/reviewing? Or site scripts to check?
Not practical/possible either way.

By that logic, marking answer as community wiki grants permission to anybody to modify the answer.

We already do have such permission/system on non-wiki answers, even if in some cases it's "suggested" edits.

Whoever can benefit from the answer will benefit from it even if an article is missing here and there

Arguably you are right for the most part, but not always.
There are some technical and tricky answers around, and having to "fill in gaps" where grammar is not 100% detracts the brain power from just learning or taking in what the answer is about.

overzealous proofreading text takes time

Another reason why "community moderation" is a winner. Various users can add to or improve an answer over time, eventually making it perfect.
No-one is asking or suggesting one user grabs an answer and spends hours on it :)

| improve this answer | |
  • "The author of the answer would get an option to flag harmful edit" For what purposes? For reviewers to all review it again? This makes no sense, as the "author of an answer" with a suggested edit can currently reject with their single vote, or approve, improve, rollback, and re-edit. Your other replies make no sense, sorry. I'm no longer sure what you're trying to achieve. You suggest limiting edits to "leetspeak" only, but then want to issue a list for reviews? Why do reviewers need a list if you've all but stopped the ability for suggested edits to be reviewed? – James Jul 22 '15 at 18:31
  • 3
    You're not familiar with the site or the systems. You are suggesting changes which are already in place, and not really thinking about what you are suggesting. You want to stop users from being able to edit posts because of edge cases where someone with 2k or more makes a bad edit. The net result of that is the site quality degrades drastically because users can no longer just clean up. Go to SEDE and do some work there, see how many edits have been made in Stack Overflow in the last 4 weeks. Then tell me how many were bad. Then we can work on fixing the problem you have identified :) – James Jul 22 '15 at 19:09
  • "I occasionally get people digging up ancient threads to retag or grammar edit them" an occasional problem to one user in millions is not a reason to change a system which otherwise keeps the sites clean and tidy, and for the most part works really well. There are niggles I have with the sites, and have even raised feature requests, some with user backing me, but Stack cannot just change and implement everything and anything, it has to consider all users, and draw a line through those in favour, those against, benefits, caveats, dev time to implement and upkeep. – James Jul 22 '15 at 20:08
  • 1
    Have to agree with @James here, I fail to see what the actual problem is. Stating that 3-5 years ago, this that and the other happened are largely irrelevant - this is today, and as James has said, there is nothing really compelling in your arguments to warrant changes that you are demanding. – user289879 Jul 23 '15 at 4:32

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .