I am wondering if very localized questions that would not be use to other people are okay to ask on French Language Stack Exchange.

I have read many grammar websites, but often I come across sentences that none of the grammar learning that I have done help me to understand, even when using a dictionary. This happens so often that it gets discouraging, as a French Language Learner.

It is important to get help with understanding some of the many sentences where it's not vocabulary that prevents me from understanding them, but instead grammar. The problem is that I don't know how to find the answers on my own, (through googling, for example).

The following question: Meaning of “en” in “il en est un …” got some disapproval for being too localized and not useful for other people.

  1. Are these kinds of questions (that are motivationally very important for the individual French Language Learner to have answered) okay to ask here?
  2. If they are not okay to ask here, what are other places on the Web that we can ask these questions?

2 Answers 2


I'm in favour of such questions. Lately I've been doing research on teaching second languages, with a focus on French in Ontario, and have found some interesting articles suggesting that an effective strategy is not to rely on form-focused instruction alone, nor on a student's absorption of rules given a glut of content, but a mix of the two: look at content but include an explicit "noticing" component, in which the student's attention is guided to something salient or important. If a student independently identifies something as interesting or perplexing in some content, they're probably trying (and ready) to accommodate that new knowledge into their current schema.

Someone might object: "So it's useful to the OP. Is it useful to anyone else?" But I would say that making that assumption is the core principle of the Stack Exchange system, and it's borne out again and again every day. Very rarely does a concept only apply in only one case of interest to only one person.

Of course, the caveat is that it's only a useful question if the usage is at least a little opaque or interesting compared with what one reads about it in the average grammar book.

For example, say a person has read the basics on direct object pronouns and has seen standard examples like this:

Ta pomme ? Désolé, je l'ai mangée ce matin ...

This example of l' follows the general rules to a T; there's nothing unique about it. If a person asks about this sentence, the only viable answers are probably to reteach the grammar or to point the asker to existing resources or previous questions. So it's not very useful.

But if you come across this sentence:

Comme tu le sais, c'est un beau gosse.

Here it's not immediately obvious to an Anglophone or anyone who's read only a basic resource why this sentence needs le. Compare: "As you know, he's a good-looking guy." If a person asked about this sentence, the answer might draw on an insight that's not in every resource: French seems to construe the second clause as the object of sais in some deeper structure, and does this regularly across a lot of patterns. (At least, that's how I would tend to answer it.)

Q: How do I know whether my sentence is exceptional?

A: The important thing is to show your thinking. "I read about X, but here I see Y. Why is that?"

In my experience these questions are fruitful.

  • 2
    Your second example is excellent. I see a lot of questions like this, where a translation and explanation will help the learner, whereas an answer that only draws on a complicated grammatical explanation might not (which you just did very nicely). I try to answer such questions contrastively by providing others examples, and "it don't" go over too great. Sometimes this can be explained purely grammatically, other times it is more about the ""génie de la langue" which will call for the learner to ultimately accept. There is great resistance to this in both directions, it would seem.
    – Lambie
    Dec 24, 2017 at 20:19

Don't worry, that question is fine!

”I came across this sentence and I don't understand it” questions are a pretty common type of questions on this site. They're so common that we have a specific close reason that highlights the bad kind:

Please look up the meaning of words or expressions in a dictionary first. If you did so and found nothing satisfactory, mention that in your question. Do give context for where you heard or saw the word.

At least, that's one of the bad kinds — words or expressions out of context (the close reason also covers words whose meaning is straightforward from a dictionary lookup). The other bad kind is covered by “too broad” — when someone posts a whole passage and asks for an explanation (or often, just a translation).

The question you cite is a textbook example of a good question of this type:

  • it asks about a specific word;
  • the meaning of the word in question cannot be deduced from a dictionary, context is key;
  • the relevant context is given;
  • and (not strictly necessary, but appreciated) the asker explains what their reasoning was to try to understand it and why they failed.

The question did not attract any disapproval for being too localized. One commenter warned about the possibility of such disapproval, but it didn't come.

  • yes, i wasn't accurate in what i said. you're right; one commenter warned about the possibility of disapproval; i think my brain then imagined the disapproval as real, for some reason! your post gives me added clarity on what i should include to make my "i don't understand this sentence" into acceptable questions to ask on this site, so thanks for that.
    – silph
    Oct 27, 2017 at 21:49
  • Ok good but what about questions formulated in French where the French is iffy? Or not really how it would be heard? Then what? In other words, a question based on a badly formed phrase in French? I see people providing long-winded explanations about French grammar and not actually paying attention to what was odd in the question in the first place...
    – Lambie
    Dec 24, 2017 at 20:21

You must log in to answer this question.

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