One of my questions has a discussion in the comments about questioners looking up words in a dictionary before posting a question here on Stack Exchange.

To what extent is asking for a translation of a "simple" word fine? And how do I know if it is simple or not?

Theoretically, all root words can be looked up in a dictionary, but that doesn't mean we understand them. It is probably better to have a more "complicated" question than just "how do you say X in Esperanto?", but what is it that our user base needs? What is it that our team of expert can and wants to provide?

I read a question on German SE where the comment on a word was, basically "there is a Wikipedia page about this already, do you want to close your question now?". I found that a bit extreme...

  • We definitely need to come to a consensus on this. Another way to put the question might be "do we want Esperanto Stack Exchange to be Yet Another Online Dictionary?" Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 11:17
  • 1
    I really hope we don't want that. We have far too many translation requests for common words. Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 14:40

4 Answers 4


Generally no, but yes in two obvious cases:

  • If the dictionnaries where the word is accurately translated are hard to access. If you have to pay for a book to be able to access a translation, then it means that people after you will face the same problem. Adding the question in Stack Exchange will help all Esperanto-speakers of the Internet access the information. Also, if the word was translated in an unknown dictionnary hidden in the tenth page of Google, we can not expect people to have checked the word on it.

  • When people are dubious or disagree with how a word was translated (they have to explain why in the content of the question). This may be common for technical terms. Not everything in Komputeko (or other word-lists) is good, and people may want to have an input from the community before using a word listed there.

Writing a question in Stack Exchange can take some time, especially for newcomers. It is often quicker to make an extensive search with Google. So if I newcommer ask for a meaning of a word, I think we should believe him if he says he had trouble finding a translation. He might not be alone.


As long as the questions are generally allowed, I'm going to keep answering them if I can. There are, however, some good reasons to discourage these kinds of questions.

  • It doesn't encourage learners to become self-sufficient.
  • It takes time away from other questions which can't be looked up.
  • The dictionary authors worked hard on their dictionaries and deserve to be paid - and copying the entries from the dictionaries is ultimately a form of plagiarism.
  • It floods the database with low-value questions.

At the very least, people asking for single word translations should be encouraged to mention what dictionaries they checked and what translations they considered before asking.


Inspired by the other answers, I want to get more concrete. I suggest we will not encourage questions that can be answered with one or more dictionary entries understood at their most basic level (the uni-structural level). The dictionaries are

Esperanto -> Common language/understanding

Common language -> Esperanto

If a question not having done this research appears, I think we should answer with a short answer quoting the relevant dictionary, so that people learn by example.

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    PIV gives the definition only in Esperanto. I am not sure it is a good idea to tell users who are learning Esperanto "You didn't look on PIV, which gives you the answer."
    – apaderno
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 21:04

The general rule about single-word questions, used from other Stack Exchange sites about languages is Don't accept questions that can be easily answered from a dictionary. This for me means that questions about translations of single words are acceptable if:

  • There isn't a way for the OP to translate the word from their native language to Esperanto, it is too expensive for them, or it's not freely available
  • The same word is translated with different words from different dictionaries, and the OP wants to know what word should be used
  • There is more than one way to translate that word, and the OP wants to know which one should be used in a specific context

For example, I would not close a question asking the meaning of a single word when the only resource available is a website explaining that in Esperanto. We cannot assume all the users asking a question know Esperanto enough to learn from a site written only in Esperanto, or mostly in Esperanto.

I agree with Tomaso Alexander that the more information the OP provides, the better the question becomes. That includes the context in which the word is used, which research the OP did, what the OP finds confusing in what they found.

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