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I have a general proposal that I would like the community here to discuss in answers to this posting, and if there is consensus agreement, to please help out with what is proposed.

Why gramática Is Not a Helpful Tag

Today I went through questions tagged and where possible, replaced that tag with more specific ones that I hoped would be more informative.

I see two different problems with the tag:

  1. By itself, tells you nothing about what the question is about. This is the more important of the two problems.
  2. People use as a general tag for anything related to language, including things completely unrelated to grammar like spelling, capitalization, punctuation, diacritical markings, and meaning.

Jeff Atwood wrote in The Death of Meta Tags:

The reason meta-tags are a problem is that they do not describe the content of the question. [...] Meta-tags are actually a subset of a larger problem that I usually call dependent tags. These are tags that don't say anything by themselves - you can't tell what the question is about unless they're paired with some other tag (or several of them). These tags are a problem because people don't realize this and will often use that as the question's only tag.

[...]

From this point on, meta-tagging is explicitly discouraged.

How can you tell you're using a meta-tag? It's easier than you might think.

  1. If the tag can't work as the only tag on a question, it's probably a meta-tag. Every tag you use should be able to work, more or less, as the only tag on a question. [...]

  2. If the tag commonly means different things to different people, it's probably a meta-tag.

The two points that Jeff makes correspond directly to the two problems I indicated. I believe that we should avoid the tag because it tells you nothing, because it cannot stand alone, and because it means different things to different people.


A Suggestion for the Future

So what should we do?

First and foremost, we should be reasonable and understanding about this. Many people will not understand why their question “really isn’t about grammar”, or that even if it should happen to be so, that the meta-tag is not a tag that actually helps anyone.

It is also important to realize that “grammar” may be the most specific term that the person asking the question is familiar with. So they are doing their best, and we should accept and understand this.

However, I believe that it will be important to future visitors of our site for us to edit the tags to replace uses of the meta-tag with better tags that better describe the question.

Everyone on the site is encouraged to help out with this effort.

Here are the guidelines I was using for myself:

  • Tags should be in Portuguese, although we will make English synonyms for these.

  • Very generally speaking, plural forms are preferred over singular ones, so for example conjugações not just conjugação. Sometimes this does not apply, but often it does. We will make synonyms between the singular and plural forms as needed.

  • When the technical linguistic term most commonly used in Portugal for something differs from the one most commonly used in Brazil for the same thing, we will make tags for both versions and again make them synonyms.

  • There might be times when no better tag (yet?) comes to mind but the tag is the only one currently on the question, so cannot be deleted. In those cases, we should leave it in place until we get a better idea about it.

As with any tags, we should eventually fill in the tag wiki excerpt and text for each of these, but it is more important right now to get them out there and used. When we do edit the wikis, let’s please be careful to use our own words and not just copy stuff from elsewhere.

One last thing.

I went through a great many questions today to improve the tags, and I believe I may have made a few errors or at least poor decisions in my haste. I will review these over the weekend, but if anyone finds any mistakes before I do, please accept my apologies and feel free to go ahead and fix them. This should be a collaborative effort.

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    Great stuff. Except for one point I don't understand: why are plurals generally better than singulars? For instance, I tagged a new question today "concordância-verbal" and "concordância-nominal" (and left "gramática" out). Would "concordâncias-verbais" be better? "Concordância-verbal" is the standard phrase even when discussing different ways of implementing it (different "concordâncias", one might say). – Jacinto Sep 19 '15 at 22:17
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    Thanks. For "concordância-verbal" it makes better sense the way you have it. It may be because concordância more commonly functions as a non-count noun than as a count noun like say verbos or nomes, but I haven’t completely thought it through. I just know that that for count nouns, it seems to work better in the plural, and so that is what I was doing myself. I think there are a fair number of instances where the singular works better than the plural, though, but I don’t have a good guiding rule to explain why I think this or that. I’ll try to think about it. – tchrist Sep 20 '15 at 2:31
  • I don't know if the Brazil-Portugal technical term conflict will ever arise in practice, but if it does, we'll have to decide which is the "primary" synonym that actually gets shown. There's no symmetric synonymy for tags, right? – Frank Sep 20 '15 at 19:16
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    @Frank That’s right, one of the set has to be the canonical one. However, it is trivial to swap around which one that is. This came up with modo-conjuntivo and modo-subjuntivo, where the first is the one normally used in Portugal and the second the one normally used in Brazil. I had to pick one or the other, so I did, but I really don't care at all myself; whatever the Community wants is fine by me. Feel free to make other suggestions; here’s the current synonym list. – tchrist Sep 20 '15 at 21:04
  • re pt-PT vs pt-BR: unfortunately the Brazilians are 190 million... :( – ANeves Sep 21 '15 at 18:06
  • @ANeves And Brazil’s birthrate is half again Portugal’s, too. – tchrist Sep 21 '15 at 18:11
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Allow me to disagree. Gramatica is a good tag, even though it is broad.

First, sites need to have both broad and narrow tags. As this highly voted answer on Meta explains, broad tags are useful because they are likely to be watched by more users, and therefore bring more attention to questions. This may not be apparent now, but it will become more important as the site grows.

As more and more people join the site, some will have particular interests, and some will want to see grammar questions as opposed to translation or word choice questions, for example. If we get rid of the grammar tag and replace it with dozens of more specific tags, such users would have to add all those smaller tags to their watchlist.

Second, gramatica is not a meta tag. Meta tags are things like "homework" and "question-written-in-portuguese." If you look at the examples he talks about, "grammar" does not fit. It is broad, yes, but Stack Overflow and all the Stack Exchange sites have extremely broad tags on them. Stack Overflow has "Javascript", for example, and then dozens of "sub-tags" relating to specific pieces of that language. English.SE and Spanish.SE both have grammar tags as well.

Third, users always choose the wrong tag when creating questions. I'm sure I've done it on the questions I've asked here. That's not a good reason to get rid of "broad" tags: users will pick the wrong narrow tags too!

Recommendation: As the above linked post says, the goal when tagging questions should be to

try to include at least one very broad tag (i.e., java or c#) and one other tag to narrow the topic down within that broader category

Broad tags like gramatica are very helpful, and should not be removed. Perhaps we should discuss how to best use it, and figure out what types of questions should not get that tag, but so long as this site accepts grammar-related questions, it should have a grammar tag.

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    I have to agree with you. Good point of view +1 – Jorge B. Sep 24 '15 at 14:28
  • Thanks for your perspective and opinion. The reason I find grammar a meta-tag is because of the people who use it as a synonym for anything at all having to do with language, and I do not imagine anyone wants a language tag. If it were actually talking about things like syntax or morphology, which are matters of grammar, wouldn't those tags be better? Do you think a grammar tag actually helps steer questions towards experts and to steer searchers for related questions? That would not be my own impression. – tchrist Sep 24 '15 at 23:19
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    @tchrist Yes, it's definitely a misuse of the tag for it to have questions in it other than grammar-related questions. In such cases it should be removed. I also think you are right that a more specific tag like syntax or morphology would be very useful, perhaps more useful to many people than grammar, but there's no reason that a question can't have both. That way people generally interested in grammar can simply watch the grammar tag, while others with more specific interests can watch more specific tags. – Nathaniel Sep 25 '15 at 12:42

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