Quite often I see an answerer open with "You don't" or "You can't" or some other abject contradiction of the asker's question. Sometimes that is an alliterative style which quickly turns into a real answer.

But often, there perfectly well are good answers. The answerer just hasn't thought of them, and doesn't really want to sit with the question and find a real answer.

So here's the question. How much due diligence does an answerer owe the community, before tossing down "can't"? Is "can't" a statement they should be expected to support/prove, or can it be placed down as an unsupported matter of opinion?

Failure-to-prove is self-evident when several other answerers give perfectly practical solutions.

The issue is that as said here, "Most importantly, it is never appropriate to post an answer that does not directly answer the question asked.". And "you don't" definitely does not.

  • @sphennings That's where the quote comes from, but I build on it to try to get consensus on limits to "I can't". The question here is what level of diligence/support should "I can't" be backed with. I had already edited in the quote, and was searching for the link to the source when you posted it. :) Feb 26, 2018 at 23:04
  • 2
    Also relevant: Why doesn't this site have a back it up rule?
    – Em C
    Feb 26, 2018 at 23:05
  • 2
    Read further down in the same post and you will see multiple examples of answers saying "You don't" being described as acceptable.
    – sphennings
    Feb 26, 2018 at 23:09
  • "I would also recommend that an answer that both answers the question and tries to argue that the OP is wrong in their choice should be considered closely and possibly edited to remove the latter part if it is completely irrelevant to the answer. In this way we can preserve good content without starting arguments over these subjects. When reviewing answers of this type, though, we should be careful when it comes to answers that say "don't do that" not because the beliefs are wrong but because the reaction to the interpersonal situation is wrong." From related, emphasis mine.
    – JMac
    Feb 26, 2018 at 23:31
  • @sphennings Sure, but those are fairly cut-and-dried cases, not cases where 5 other answers show how you definitely can. Feb 26, 2018 at 23:39
  • @Harper Both of the referenced answers aren't the only answer to their question either. I fail to see how this is a problem.
    – sphennings
    Feb 26, 2018 at 23:42

1 Answer 1


Is "can't" a statement they should be expected to support/prove, or can it be placed down as an unsupported matter of opinion?

All answers are expected to be supported regardless of whether they're a "don't/can't" or not.

How much due diligence does an answerer owe the community, before tossing down "can't"?

The same amount of due diligence required of any answer.

There's a difference between saying that something "can't" be done and saying that something "shouldn't" be done. Obviously this being a site about interpersonal skills, a great many things technically can be done that perhaps shouldn't be done. For instance, if a question asked:

How do I hit on my best friend's wife?

Two answers immediately present themselves:

Don't hit on your best friend's wife, because... (reasons)


If you're going to do it, ask if they're ok with it first, or don't get caught doing it because... (reasons)

Now obviously you can in fact hit on your best, monogamous, friend's wife. But is this a "good" answer? Here problems arise because people have different opinions about what's "good."

Most likely the majority of people will support the "Don't do it" answer, but there will probably be at least a few who will lean towards the "Don't get caught" answer. And, well, believe it, or not, these are both answers to the question asked. One told the OP not to do the thing they wanted to do, and the other gave possibly ill advised advice on how to do it.

Now, if the question had been:

How do I hit on my best friend's wife, without running the risk of offending him?

The only reasonable answer is probably going to be:

You can't hit on your best friend's wife without running the risk of causing offense, because... (reasons)

Regardless of the question, each individual answer isn't expected to be exhaustive. It's great when they are, but it's an unreasonable expectation. Each answer is only required to be one self contained answer to the question. And, like it or not, frame challenges are permitted.

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