Microsoft Word: To Trust or Not to Trust [with your grammar]
*This post originally appeared on my previous blog on November 20, 2014 and has been updated/revised
[Disclaimer: The word processor I refer to is Microsoft Word 2013, on my Windows Surface Tablet which runs on Windows 8.]
I follow a company called Grammarly – if you haven’t heard of it, that’s okay, you have now so go check them out!
Back? Great. I follow Grammarly because I like the witty cartoons, links, and other content they post that focuses on grammar and spelling errors. When visiting their page, you may have discovered their main event: a grammar checker, which boasts to “correct up to 10 times more mistakes than popular word processors.” Well, I primarily use just one word processor, the almighty Microsoft Word, so I can really only attest to its reliability in regard to spelling and grammar. I decided to see for myself if Grammarly’s grammar checker lived up to their front-page statement by committing some grammar, spelling, and what should be legal crimes against the English language.
I typed the following into Microsoft Word, and was pleasantly surprised at what I saw:
Hooray for those squiggly lines! They never fail to impress me; MW is smarter than many English-speaking humans I know, but let’s not worry about that right now. As you can see, Word identifies that I used the incorrect forms of “your,” “no,” and “due.” It also recognizes that “a” should be “an” when placed before “answer” (find out why here). Word also points out that I did not put the apostrophe in “don’t.”
What are my disappointments? I used “blue” instead of “blew” in the first sentence, which Word does not recognize; and “so couldn’t you.” If you read my Choice Words post on contractions, “couldn’t” does not work here. Take apart that contraction. Does “so could not you give me…” make sense? No. There is also tense contradiction in the first sentence: I start with future tense, and then switch to past tense by saying “bl[ew] down.” The “therefore” is also not necessary; a simple “so” would work in its place. Mostly satisfied by these results, onto the next step: What happens when I input these sentences into Grammarly’s grammar checker?
Excellent! I really appreciate the breakdown of the different pieces analyzed; the plagiarism category is a great bonus – I did just randomly select these sentences but I guess my subconscious is working extra sneakily. The downside to these results: I have to create an account and pay for them, which I’m not interested in doing. I do trust Grammarly, but I think this is taking the easy way out: the best way to learn from your mistakes is to learn what makes them mistakes, not by having someone – or something – tell you what’s wrong and what to change without an explanation.
So to answer my initial question of “can you trust your word processor?” – Most of the time, you can. Microsoft Word identifies most spelling, as well as grammatical errors, in the sentences and paragraphs you type, although it’s always beneficial to proofread more than once, and have someone else proofread your work if possible (emphasis is put on “most of the time” in our answer). Should you pay for a service like Grammarly’s grammar check? Sure. I wouldn’t discourage it if it helps you form better sentences and written thoughts. However, I would more strongly recommend you turn to a grammar-nerd friend or resource for advice and explanations and maybe if you’re lucky, they will do it for free.
Looking for other resources to help you out with the tricky English language? I do recommend following Grammarly’s Twitter and Facebook posts for free advice, but also keep an eye out for more posts by yours truly; I’ll be sure to introduce you to other resources I turn to in times of need.