I would like to find out by discussion whether and how this can become a good feature request.

"How to ... ?" questions might be wrong

I see "How to ... ?" questions every day. Only some month ago I learnt that this might be wrong, see:

  • Can "How to" be a question? - English Language Learners Stack Exchange

    The usage of how to to ask a question is a direct translation from the learner's own language: it is not correct as a question in English. The expression is used in titles, for example "How to win friends and influence people".

    Mind that this answer does not say anything about "How to ...?", but only about "How to ...". So that this would mean that the latter is also wrong, so that dropping the question mark, as discussed here, would not make it right either. Yet, there is another answer saying (see this other answer at "Can “How to” be a question?":

    Are you talking of asking some guy How do I kill an insect ?, versus How to kill an insect ? ? If so, I believe the latter is not grammatically correct. I think How to is used more in titles and such (not in the question form), for example: How to kill all the insects in your house in less than 3 hours.

    This is just one voice out of many. But it is a hint that some see it as wrong. And I do not find a proof that it is not wrong.

  • Asking Questions in English - Youtube - even if this is a very easy beginner's guide, it tells you to ask a question in a full sentence, with a verb in it, so that only "How do I ...?" would be good to go. It does not say anything about "How to ...?" or "How to ..." in a heading.

The first time I ran into this discussion on "How to ...?" questions

I got the links above from a discussion at How to reopen a question that was closed as being not a programming question even if code is not needed to make it a programming question where the last remarks below the question were:


Avoid: 1) Asking questions in broken English. [my remark on this: this also meant the "How to ...?" questions] 2) Run-on sentences. 3) Sentence fragments.


English is not my mother tongue, but as to the few other Q/As that you checked as well, I doubt that the change from "How to [verb]" to "How can I [verb]" is needed, see an example like How to key in "Yes" or "No" in Jupyter notebook. Your link to "Asking questions" is too easy. And if there is a gerund at the beginning, it is a style that I saw in other Q/As as well: "Sharing this since it took me too much time ....:". Not a full sentence, but still something you can write out of nowhere, kind of a quick or loose style. Changing "How to ..." to "How can/do I?" in a header is not needed if it does not end with a question mark, see Can “How to” be a question?. But you are right: "How to ...?", ending with a question mark, is plain wrong, when it is meant as a question. See the same link. Thanks for the many edits.

In the last remark, I still thought that the change from broken English "How to ...?" to "How do I ...?" was not needed, but after reading Can “How to” be a question?, I changed my mind on this.

Further links

Then, if they are grammatical, but still informal, aren't they still plain wrong?

What does it all mean for the discussion here?

In English, you would not ask a "How to ...?"-question, "How to... without a question mark" is more a title saying: this is about..., this guide tells you about..., this question is about... and so on, something you would read in technical guides if you just need to know how things should be done or want to see a list of answers like on Stack Exchange.


How to fix a collation conflict in a SQL Server query

Were I dropped the question mark that was there before:


How to fix a collation conflict in a SQL Server query?

I have started dropping the "?" at a few questions and stopped this again since this is Sisyphus work, and even the native English speaking community is clear about it being wrong or not, as seen in the remarks below.

Yet, if I see the English guides on how to ask questions above, it is indeed plain wrong to write this.

The community should not allow wrong English, or English should allow it so far that it is not wrong anymore. And indeed, you find it so often on the internet that English might sooner or later take it up. But for now, having such a widespread grammatical mistake is something that should be dealt with on a top-down level, that is at least my idea of a feature request: cleaning up such questions by dropping the "?" question marker as long as this question mark is at the end.

Another way to stop the flood of "How to ... ?" questions is to warn on the spot, while you enter the question, so that a rule pops up as soon as the question has this pattern.

These are just two ways to go on with, and there are surely more ways, from not doing anything up to doing a big clean up with many people and perhaps with some incentives, or at best, to take the power of AI or Regex or other pattern code.


What do you think of this? Should we care about wrong English if perhaps more than half of the people that do not have English as their mother tongue do not even know that it is wrong? Should it be seen as wrong at all, if it is so widespread? You can also prove that it is not wrong, even though that belongs rather to the English Language Learners or English Language and Usage Stack Exchanges.

  • 10
    I re-read your question after replacing my spectacles with the correct pair and I get it now. It seems like a minor quibble compared with the sort of things that the developers prefer to spend their time adjusting and the 25,000 + feature-requests outstanding.
    – W.O.
    Commented Mar 6 at 1:12
  • 1
    @W.O. It is wrong grammar every day, everywhere, and the pattern can easily by found and the changes be coded, and if it is just a warning, it is even less work. This would be a small project that could be done by machines. Commented Mar 6 at 1:15
  • 7
    It may help you to understand the unlikelihood of this being implemented if you see the company's priorities currently as stated: No April Fools 2024 prank: rationale and next steps. They're too busy ensuring the survival and profitability to be concerned about grammatical errors of English which they may not (being largely US based) consider to be that bad. The ability to be understood is better than exactitude to most users.
    – W.O.
    Commented Mar 6 at 1:21
  • 10
    It is a statement without the question mark, not a question. The phrasing (with question mark) is acceptable English usage. And you should check your spelling better…
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 6 at 2:18
  • @JonCuster No, I had a discussion on this with native English people and afterwards also searched for this. I am afraid that I could not quickly recall where this happened. The outcome of my research was that this grammar is plain wrong. One of us is wrong here. I want to find out what you would say if you were wrong by saying: "The phrasing (with question mark) is acceptable English usage." Have you thought of the chance that you are just wrong with that? And would that change your whole view on this discussion here? Commented Mar 6 at 12:53
  • 7
    As a native (American) English speaker with an English professor for a mother... There is a long tradition of 'language mavens' (or depending on your point of view 'grammar Nazis' - both were used in the 1970s-90s) seeking to strictly define what 'proper English' is. They fail on two counts: one, language is highly flexible. Two, almost all attempts to strictly define 'proper' English were motivated by race and class distinctions. "How to X" and "How to X?" would be pronounced differently, and perfectly well understood by nearly everyone. It may not be 'proper' according to some, but it works.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 6 at 14:39
  • @JonCuster I ask you whether it is wrong or right, and you answer that language changes and we should not care. I think that is worth an answer since if that is true - that you as a native speaker do not care about it as long as it is understandable or has some place in history - then it is also your playground, since I did not even know that it was wrong up to a month ago or two. I made that mistake over years without knowing that it was wrong. Commented Mar 6 at 18:06
  • 3
    But it isn't wrong - look, if this is the windmill you want to tilt at in the face of common usage, fine. Just don't expect anyone else to get excited about it, much less approve your edits.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 6 at 20:05
  • @JonCuster I have done about five of such edits, do not worry. And I cleaned up my own things. That is all. That is why I asked the question here: I planned to do so while I made such small changes, thinking that it is not the windmill I want to tilt at if I understand that proverb right, so I agree. It is Sisyphus work. Commented Mar 6 at 20:45
  • @JonCuster If people like you say that it does not matter so much since language changes, that is also a remark I can deal with, it could be one of the answers. But if nobody wants to prove that it is wrong or not, the discussion is not grounded. I thought it would be wrong, else I would not have asked. And it might still be true that it is wrong, even if everyday language has changed. Commented Mar 7 at 7:27

2 Answers 2


Instead of using titles like:

How do you fix a collation conflict in a SQL Server query?

which inevitably results in a very large proportion of all questions having titles that begin with the same two words. I think much more succinct titles can be written in this form with no loss of information:

Fixing collation conflict in SQL Server query

I think we need more consensus on the use of gerunds in titles in preference to starting so many of them with “How to/do …” before any proposal to prevent the latter with or without a question mark becomes timely. The use of gerunds in titles is discussed at Prefering How to <something>, How do I do <something> or Doing <something> in question titles.

  • Or just Fix ... which avoids participlizing
    – philipxy
    Commented Mar 6 at 11:53
  • I agree that this is as well enough, even if these two examples are also not a full question. By this, you agree that How to... without a question mark might have a right to survive. People who upvote this or agree with this should know that they upvote also a sort of How to... fix as put in the question. In a former discussion, people still insisted on asking How do I/you... or How can I/you, but I think that allowing for gerunds helps saving some space and makes the question landscape more colourful. Commented Mar 6 at 12:57
  • 1
    This advice is the exact opposite of the advice stated in the Meta SE FAQ post: How do I write a good title? Commented Mar 7 at 10:53
  • @galacticninja This is not an advice. This discussion is about changing the questions with a new feature request to, for example, gerunds. For now, it is not allowed. I discussed that link with others in another meta thread which I do not know without spending more time on searching. But you are right, they say that "How to unzip a zip file from the Terminal?" belongs to "Some Good Examples" in that link. And I do not understand this since I am still quite sure that someone and/or a text told me that it is plain wrong to say "How to ... ?" with a question mark at the end. Commented Mar 7 at 12:00

If you want to fix the grammar of "How to fix a collation conflict in a SQL Server query?" some possibilities might be:

How do you fix a collation conflict in a SQL Server query?

How should I fix a collation conflict in a SQL Server query?

How can someone fix a collation conflict in a SQL Server query?

...or many other variants. Dropping the question mark changes the meaning to make it not a question but something more like a heading. Probably the people at English.SE could tell you what it is, exactly, but what I can tell you is that it's not a replacement for a question so this feature is not a good one to request.

  • Yes, that is also how I ask questions now since I know that How to ...? is wrong. I say How do I.... But that would be the same feature request to talk about. This could be changed by code. My examples were just examples how this could be fixed. That is why I do not know why I should accept this as an answer, my question is about whether we want to fix the wrong grammar or not at all. I disagree that How to... makes it no question. I had a discussion on this before, and it is understandable to see this as a list of answers that are yet to come, and it fits to a knowledgebase. Commented Mar 6 at 12:44

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