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:

m-word-test

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?

grammarly-test

 

 

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.

Happy writing!

 

A or An ?

Today I’m featuring another post I published on my previous blog one year ago. The post has aged, but the lesson is timeless.

*This originally appeared on my previous blog on November 5th, 2014

Today, while I was catching up on episodes of The Tonight Show (hey, I’m doing that now!) and eating lunch, I opened this game on my phone – it’s called Compulsive – and was browsing its features. I clicked on the “Awards Page” and a hover over one of the awards produced the image shown below. First of all, an app/smartphone game that gives the user an award – that cannot be put on a resume, mind you – for an hour straight?!? Yikes. But I’m not here to discuss the problems with doing that, I’m here to discuss the error that appears in the caption, which I will take a second to show you now:

Google Play - A Hour

“A hour.” I hope that when you say it out loud, it sounds odd to you. Because it is not correct.

When deciding to use “a” or “an,” take a look at your next word. Usually you can tell by looking at the first letter of the word; if it’s a vowel, use “an.” A consonant, use “a.”

EXCEPT: the rule of “a” or “an” really applies to the sound of the first letter. The above image from the seemingly popular game in Google’s Play Store is the best example of this. Although “hour” begins with a consonant, this is one of those “trickster” English words that starts with a silent letter. Since it is pronounced “our,” “an” is the correct article to use. Therefore, the above image should read: “Play for an hour…” and my recommended ending would be “…if you feel like wasting part of your day by mindlessly connecting blocks of the same color.”

Happy Birthday Choice Words!

One year ago today I debuted my Choice Words feature (on my original blog domain). Here is the sass I chose to start it off with:


 

*This post originally appeared on October 23rd, 2014

I was scrolling through tumblr, and I found a picture with the words “Stop correcting my grammar, this isn’t English class.” I would post it, but the image behind the text isn’t something I want on my blog, and it’s not the actual post I want to discuss anyway.
You don’t want your grammar (or spelling, punctuation, etc.) corrected because we aren’t inside a school or classroom? Girl/boy, please.
Yes, I understand you may find it annoying if you text me or post something for me and the first thing I do is notice you used the wrong “its” or “their.” I don’t mean to annoy you.
And you’re right, this isn’t English class – this is REAL LIFE. Yes, your spelling and punctuation matter in real life, just as they do in English class.
Is it silly that I get [so] worked up about incorrectly spelled words and grammatically incorrect sentences? Perhaps. Will I cut it out? No.
In no way do I think I am perfect with my grammar; if you see something wrong on my blog or when I speak, let me know! Because I’ll be sure to do the same [for you].


Aah, memories. Though I am happy to say these feelings hold true one year later.

As you know, I am working on a redesign/revamping of my blog, and a more reliable and consistent Choice Words will be a big part of that. Have any suggestions? Shoot me an email or leave a comment for what you’d like to see for advice and tips on writing clearly, speaking effectively, and working towards a heightened understanding of grammar and language.

As always, thank you for reading (and following!).

(Fun Fact: I originally published my entire blog on July 4th 2014 – what a unique date.)

 

“How to Write Good”

*This appeared on my previous blog on December 30th, 2014

As many of you know, I recently started working as a copywriter for a home décor/furnishings magazine. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, I will describe it as simply as possible. I write copy.

Now some of you reading this might be thinking: “Oh, of course.” But most of the people I believe are reading this are thinking: “Ha ha, very funny. But what do you really do?”

That is what I really do. But more specifically, I write descriptions for products, edit those descriptions scrupulously, and write them again. I am learning terms for fabric; I’ve learned how to say “primitive” about 20 different ways; and I’m becoming much more intimate with dictionaries and thesauruses. Thesaurusi? Just kidding, it’s thesauruses. I’m also learning about the many stages of magazine production – there are a lot more than I thought. And, I’m continuing to understand how the art of copywriting is truly underrated.

Writing product descriptions: how hard could it be? Well, thankfully my technical writing education at UMaine prepared me for how hard it can be. Sometimes, copy comes so easily for an item, and other times I could stare at an item for five minutes and not come up with anything. Additionally, some items have important parts that need to be in the copy – like if an item requires assembly, batteries, light bulbs, special cleaning instructions, and so on. Pair that with limited space on a page or within a layout, and there is potential for limited creativity and description. Also, because of space, sometimes grammar isn’t a priority. Which brings me to the main point of my post today.

Grammar. Yes, the fact that sometimes I have to sacrifice grammar to make room for a four word-titled item with two adjectives that “need” to go before that title makes me cringe. But to keep me from going super insane, I recall a list of “rules” I learned in college, and when I Googled those rules (entitled “How to Write Good,” and written by Frank L. Visco) I found them combined with a few others; I have included a link to the page below. They are all problems I have encountered, before and during my [short] time as a copywriter, and while I try to usually follow them, sometimes it is just necessary to break them. Well, some of them. The irony of these rules is that most of them are frequently broken in academic, technical and creative writing. Most of these rules are situational, and require the judgment of the writer. So when I’m feeling frustrated that my sentences are fragmented or I only have room to end a sentence with a preposition, or when I use unnecessary modifiers like “super” (see above), I look at this list and breathe a little easier – and take on the next writing project or piece of copy.

Happy writing!

http://www.plainlanguage.gov/examples/humor/writegood.cfm

Verbs – Transitive and Intransitive

Happy Saturday! I have decided to kick off my grammar posts with an explanation of transitive and intransitive verbs – and I’ll make it as exciting as I can. If you followed along with my words of the day last week, you’ll know they were all verbs – either transitive or intransitive. And for those who are not aware of verb variations, or those who need a refresher, here is my take.

Transitive Verbs…
…require an object. Not satisfied? Good, here’s more.
Take a look at the prefix: “trans-.” This Latin root means “across,” or “beyond,” and is present in other words like transit and transfer. Transfer is the one I want you to remember when thinking about transitive verbs, though, and here’s why. A transitive verb takes the action and transfers that action onto its subject; it takes the action beyond the verb and on towards the object. Here are some examples:
– The company shipped the packages.
– We took the coffee after paying.
– I needed a nap.

Intransitive Verbs…
…don’t require an object. The prefix “in-” has a negative connotation or an opposite effect when added to words: inability, irregular, illiterate, and so on. So, from this you can accurately gather that intransitive verbs do not transfer their action to an object; they don’t have to. Here are some examples:
– We danced.
– They spoke.
– She laughed.

I hope this helps, and if you have more questions, or suggestions, for this or other grammar posts, leave me a comment below – and thanks for reading!