3

I noticed there are many questions with titles of the form:

How to "do something"?

For example, How to upgrade a single package using apt-get?

I reckon grammatically these are invariably statements rather than questions. Do people here get irked by titles like these? Is it better to avoid titles of this format? Or are they well-understood?

I should admit that I myself am guilty of the same crime, I asked and edited multiple questions in this format. I'm not a native speaker, and I always understood "How to..." as an abbreviation for "How am I to..." or "How am I supposed to..." in this context.

  • tbh, I never knew that "how to" is informal/grammatically incorrect. It never occurred to me. I just checked, and I seem to be guilty of this as well. – Dan Sep 21 '17 at 10:52
  • Can a single package be upgraded using apt-get? - Is that ok? – userDepth Sep 26 '17 at 0:53
12

I do get irked and usually edit those to "How do I ...", and would accept edits which do the same thing (assuming other changes, if any, are OK).

However: It's fairly common here, and people understand it just fine. I always assumed it's a result of "how-to"s being popular on the internet. People see, people do. They see titles like that, and may not realize that it's not grammatically appropriate in other contexts, and then reuse the format for their own questions.

TL;DR: It's not a huge issue. Some titles aren't even questions and are still reasonably understandable. While we should try to improve grammar when we can, we don't have to start a crusade.

  • 1
    Monkey see, monkey do... Got any banana's left to share with me? :-) – Fabby Sep 20 '17 at 20:16
3

I take this to have its own grammatical way in terms of internet titles. It is a statement in a sense, but I take it to be more the request for a guide asking for this than a question in itself, it just has the question mark at the end to make it obvious that it is asking for this rather than just stating.

Also, all language is made up and developed, the language a 100 years ago was very different to that of current times, and the language in a 100 years time from now will be probably as incomprehensible, 'ungrammatical' and 'incorrect' as the current language would seem to Shakespeare.

The English language has (and many others too) has also greatly changed under the influence of many other languages, and popular things have just stuck around and become the 'proper' way of talking.

But really, it's all in your head, and language just flows as a rather clumsy living being.

Although, that being said, I will never accept YOLO even if everyone uses it and it does get added to the Oxford English Dictionary! ;)

2

"How to" is a frequently-used phrase, to the extent that you'll find "howto" being used as a generic name. Many people Google "how to…", which means that these questions and their answers will be found.

As already mentioned, language changes, and the internet has sped this process. There's no point in fighting it — just accept it as "an Internet thing," just as "FAQ" has replaced "Q&A".

  • 1
    but "how to [something]" would be the title of some article one is searching for, rather than a question – Zanna Sep 23 '17 at 6:40
  • I know, @Zanna, and the important thing is how people understand and search for terms. The emphasis should be on usability, not on pedantics. (I personally also don't like the wording, being a bit of a pedant myself, but my personal preferences are trumped by more important factors including the reality of the malleability of language.) – Paddy Landau Sep 23 '17 at 11:57
0

The statistics shows that, this is a legal form. In many languages as in my native language - Bulgarian - it is possible to ask a question in general form - without personal pronoun. Apparently these are the reasons why 2 of my 4 questions begin with "How to..." :)

+--------------------------------------------------------+
| Stack Exchange | Questions # | How to Q # | How to Q % |
+----------------+-------------+------------+------------+
| Unix & Linux   |    124,443  |    17,855  |    14.3 %  |
| Stack Overflow | 14,598,565  | 1,966,679  |    13.5 %  |
| Ask Ubuntu     |    272,812  |    33,412  |    12.2 %  |
| Server Fault   |    249,373  |    22,056  |     8.8 %  |
| ...            |        ...  |       ...  |       ...  |
| English Lang.. |     42,561  |     1,581  |     3.7 %  |
+--------------------------------------------------------+
  • 4
    No, it isn't; not grammatically, anyway. The statistics simply show that (of course) the vast majority of internet users are not native English speakers so they make mistakes. Yes, this is a common form in many languages but, in English, "how to" is a statement, not a question. – terdon Sep 21 '17 at 10:49
  • 1
    In Latin derived languages is the same as in Bulgarian. What makes the change from a statement to a question is the presence or absence of '?'. But in English is as @terdon commented, the site is English only so we should strive for the best possible "format" according to the currently accepted grammar rules but without being overly fundamentalist about it. At the end of the day it's a usage derived convention and conventions change over time due to changes in frequency of use and others factors. – user692175 Sep 21 '17 at 16:13
  • 4
    As a philologist I'd say that it is a legal form, the statistics show it's widely used and understood, and that suffices. It may contradict with a grammatical rule, but then again this rule applies to a language used in totally other contexts. Why shouldn't the globally typed – and never really spoken! – internet English have its own, different grammar? Why should it even not have an own grammar, with such a different setup? – dessert Sep 21 '17 at 22:03
  • @dessert In that case, you would end up with a dictionary of "U", "lol", "lmao", and that kind of stuff (it kind of already exists at urbandictionary.com). – Dan Sep 25 '17 at 12:34
  • @Dan Yeah, so? What's wrong about that? If it's commonly understood, that's language. A grammar pictures language, it doesn't instruct their users how they ought to use it – at least in the original sense. – dessert Sep 25 '17 at 12:50
-5

Yes, it is Okay. It is just that it would be better otherwise. As many things in life.

I would like to see that change. We should propose that something is added to the introduction to the site asking to avoid questions with how to.

Advantage? I see it will give askers a tendency to solve what they want before asking and solve what is X and Y instead of leaving to the responder what it is they want to do.

"How can I fix?" is not referring to the tools to be used

"Can this Y be set to X?" Tends to go to the point

  • 2
    I think you missed my point completely. My issue was purely grammatical (or how strongly we should enforce grammatical correctness in this site), nothing to do with technical correctness of questions. – pomsky Oct 14 '17 at 22:12
  • My answer is YES it is OK because it will work. And it has been working maybe this is off topic since is about grammar and should be addressed to a language professor – userDepth Oct 14 '17 at 22:42
  • Okay. Maybe you should raise an "off-topic" flag then. – pomsky Oct 14 '17 at 22:45

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