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It has happened to me a lot in this forum. I asked a question. Some native speakers commented on my post. And don't get me wrong, I really appreciate it.

But sometimes, the helpers give contradictory advice, and more often than not, they don't work together to arrive at a final conclusion. They just leave it there for us learners to wonder what we should do. Certainly, we're not capable of that.

So what do we do in this kind of situation?

P.S. I've had another account here before, so this post isn't only based on some posts from this account.

P.S. Here's an example of native speakers giving me a lot of different advice. their or its counterparts

(Somebody help me with the tag, please! XD)

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  • The voting on answers may give a clue. Commented Mar 25 at 4:13
  • Unfortunately, this is difficult to answer without seeing an example of the kind of contradictory answers you mean. Commented Mar 25 at 9:36
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    Questions about how to get good answers or how to use the site belong on Meta.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 25 at 10:55
  • I have added a link to my post as an example. Commented Mar 25 at 12:48
  • @anIELTSlearner For the particular case you cited, looking at the answers and comments overall, the general consensus seems to be that the highest upvoted answer is correct but that the sentence is confusing enough that you should probably reword it. Is your understanding of the situation different?
    – YonKuma
    Commented Mar 25 at 12:58

3 Answers 3

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There are various possibilities.

It could be a dialectal or regional difference. For instance, Americans are more likely to say "on the weekend" and Brits are more likely to say "at the weekend".

It could be a generation gap. Every generation comes up with its own slang. Young people might tell you that "rizz" is a perfectly valid word, and insist that some common expressions are hopelessly old-fashioned. Words, like clothes, go in and out of fashion. And like clothing fashions, some endure (like jeans) while others are short-lived fads.

It could be different registers and "code switching". Some people use different vocabulary and accents when talking to neighborhood or hometown friends, compared to when they are in a formal setting like an office. Songs often use non-standard grammar like "ain't" or "he don't love you".

It could just be a "pet peeve". For example, there are a few people who get offended if they ask you do something for them and you reply, "No problem."

It could be genuine differences of opinion, but it's hard to say more without concrete examples.

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  • Thank you for your response, but I think many of the cases I encountered don't belong to the group of cases you mentioned here. I've added a link to one of my posts as an example. Commented Mar 25 at 12:50
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    @anIELTSlearner - in English there are often many ways to express the same thing, just as in any language, and people can have different opinions/preferences. Unfortunately that means there isn't always a "correct" answer. In the example you linked to, I don't personally think any of the answers are wrong.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Mar 25 at 14:40
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In addition to all the correct reasons given by ghostarbeiter, there can be some confusion caused by the goals of StackExchange as a platform.

ELL StackExchange exists to answer the questions of language learners, but it also has a goal of creating a searchable record of answers for future language learners. If there are grammatical issues with the original question, but the original question is still answerable despite these issues, these two goals can be in tension.

Sometimes it's possible to answer the particular grammar point that's asked about, but other issues with the question mean that even using the correct form will still result in an ungrammatical or unidiomatic sentence. In this case, there may be answers that seem to contradict each other because they're directed at different audiences: some to the original asker, and some to people searching in the future.

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It sounds like you were unlucky in creating a question that caused so much discussion. Occasionally, a question proves 'controversial' and a huge discussion ensues. However, this is relatively rare.

Here are a few things to consider when this does happen:

  1. Are the answers really contradictory, or are they perhaps complimentary? Some answers may give different information but ultimately provide the same answer.

  2. What kind of English are you interested in - formal written English or everyday spoken English? Some answers come from a different angle. For example, one might focus on what is strictly grammatically correct, ie what an editor would pick up on if your written work was being scrutinized; another answer might address what most people might say in everyday speech.

  3. Are they answers, or just comments? Comments may be upvoted, but not downvoted, so there is no way to be sure a comment is correct. If you're receiving lots of comments but no answers, your question may be off-topic. Some users tend to comment on questions that are off-topic rather than give an answer, perhaps because they suspect the question will be closed/deleted, or they fear that an answer to an off-topic question may be downvoted. If your question is off-topic then you may not receive reliable answers because many users will keep away from them. Some questions can be improved and made suitable with a little research or reframing the question.

  4. Check the supporting evidence. Are credible sources about learning English cited? Beware of 'evidence' that comprises only of examples, especially when contrary examples can be found. Native speakers make mistakes too, and examples of mistakes can sometimes be held up as evidence that something is correct. Also, beware of 'ngrams' - graphs showing word or phrase usage from Google Books. These can occasionally be useful, but more often than not the data is not clean, and the words and phrases can have other uses outside of the scope of the question, and very small data sets can create visuals with an exaggerated contrast between one option or another.

  5. Try to avoid confirmation bias. You may already have an idea that a particular answer is correct. You may be hoping that your original belief was correct. Don't accept the first answer that confirms what you think - take time to see how other users vote and observe discussions. But again - most questions and answers do not generate that much discussion.

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  • Thanks for your response! But sometimes, answers don't give any evidence. Also, when people give contradictory advice without commenting on others' previous answers. If the original answerer doesn't reply to that as well, I think it's barely a discussion. Commented Mar 27 at 3:45
  • link Look at this case, for example. I was pretty happy with Seowjooheng's answer until Barmar suggested that I could just add generally to fix the problem because I was once told by somebody else in this forum that even adding generally doesn't make it work. It's just frustrating when this happens. Commented Mar 27 at 3:49
  • this as well. Fumble Fingers' answer also contrasted with others, without any further discussion to resolve it. Commented Mar 27 at 3:51
  • @anIELTSlearner That's true about evidence - and as someone who provides a lot of answers, I don't feel that I should have to present research or evidence to support something that is universally accepted as true. I add in evidence when something starts to be disputed, or I suspect that it might be. But that's just one of many things that Im suggesting be considered if there are contradictory answers. If neither provide evidence then there may be other factors to consider. But if one is evidence-based and the other is not, that could be a strong indicator which is right.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Mar 27 at 12:48
  • Yes, I got it. Thanks, Astralbee! If you have more time for this, could you take a quick look at the two cases that I linked above? That'll help me a lot. Commented Mar 28 at 4:38

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