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Foreword

This is a long blog (over 2,000 words) about Grammarly, an ‘English language writing-enhancement platform’ (Wikipedia’s description).  The blog is probably of interest only to those who study English grammar and take care, and pride, in what they write—seeking to weed out solecisms, using the right word and verb tense, avoiding ambiguity, and generally following the accepted rules of English grammar.  If this is not your thing, give this blog a miss!

When I write an e-mail, a blog, or a book, I pay attention to grammar.   I use a dictionary; I respond to Microsoft Word’s alerts (the squiggly red and green lines underneath words); and I check things such as when to use that versus which, compare to versus compare with, and so on.  I also have a personal checklist containing other things such as words I overuse (also, however, furthermore, …); unnecessary intensifiers (really, actually, totally, very, much,…); a misplaced only; possible homophones (their /there, compliment/complement, …); preferred spellings (okay rather than OK); direct speech punctuation; and so on—all mistakes I’ve made in the past and made a note of.   I don’t catch all errors but I try, oh how I try!

Recently, I was made aware of a grammar-checking website called Grammarly.  Grammarly offers a basic grammar-checking service for free plus an advanced service in return for a subscription.  (More on the cost later.)   I thought I would try it out, registered for the free service, and installed the Grammarly add-in for Word.  The tool is easy to use and offers advice in several areas: spelling (including the use and abuse of hyphens), punctuation, verb tense and noun matching, British English versus American English (spelling and style), and several other types of checks.  But, and it’s a big but, your knowledge of grammar needs to be at least reasonable before you start using and responding to Grammarly’s suggestions.  Grammarly will not teach you about English grammar but does offer an explanation for an alleged error.  Grammarly will help you find errors you either missed or were not aware of when you carried out your pre-Grammarly check.  Here are some examples taken from the first drafts of a new book written by a friend of mine and sent to me with a request to proofread.

Spelling

Original text Grammarly’s suggestion Comment
She had been in her mid fifties when… mid fifties ⇒ mid-fifties Add a hyphen.  Agreed.
… into a field full of late wild flowers and seed heads. wild flowers ⇒ wildflowers One word, not two.
He was twenty two and had talked of… twenty two ⇒ twenty-two Add a hyphen. Agreed.
… at an infant’s school in her home town of Millhaven home town ⇒ hometown One word, not two. Infant’s school missed but see later.
… where he rented a small two roomed flat close to his work. two roomed ⇒ two-roomed Add a hyphen. Agreed.
… and pushed it through the letter box. letter box ⇒ letterbox One word, not two.
… and the children at the infants school where she worked were… infants ⇒ infant’s Just one infant?  The accepted way of describing a school for infants is infant school, not infants’ school or infant’s school.
… and she sank slowly on to the sofa. on to ⇒ onto Preposition spelt incorrectly.
Hundred of children are being sent away… Hundred ⇒ Hundreds Indeed!
They entered through the open double doors and made for a desk on the right hand side where sat a middle aged woman in a grey two piece suit. right hand ⇒ right-hand
middle aged ⇒ middle-aged
two piece ⇒ two-piece
Yes, yes, and yes!

Punctuation

Original text Grammarly’s suggestion Comment
At the end of the Prime Minister’s broadcast Dorothy switched… broadcast ⇒ broadcast, Add a comma. Agreed.
The three of them had met, or rather had been thrown together, as the result… met, ⇒ met Delete a comma.  I disagree.
They had been luckier than some and from the disaster a strong friendship had developed between them. disaster ⇒ disaster, Add a comma.  I disagree.
It was a second marriage for both of them and… a second ⇒ the second Hmm.  Debatable.
“It’s from Dorothy” she said. Dorothy ⇒ Dorothy, Missing comma inside closing speech mark.
… throwing the rug over the banister rail. banister ⇒ bannister Both spellings are acceptable.
During the first few weeks of the war there was a quiet and unnatural atmosphere in the town. war ⇒ war, Debatable.
“You’re home early love.” home ⇒ home, An incorrect suggestion.  Better to place a comma after early.
“Well that gives you a bit more time to do your homework.” Well ⇒ Well, Agreed.
And why should these young people not grasp happiness while they could. could. ⇒ could? Agreed.

Noun-Verb Mismatch

Original text Grammarly’s suggestion Comment
A green and blue checked rug was slung over his shoulder. was ⇒ were Incorrect.
The evening sun cast a golden glow on thatched roofs,… cast ⇒ casts Past tense: cast
Present tense: casts.
Depends on context.
He had also arranged for an Anderson shelter to be delivered and he, Michael and Sally were faced with the task of… were ⇒ was Incorrect.
There was a new brightness and determination about her countenance. was ⇒ were No, no, no!

British English versus American English

Note: Grammarly offers two dictionaries—British English and American English.  I selected British English.

Original text Grammarly’s suggestion Comment
Mr. Neville Chamberlain’s voice… Mr. ⇒ Mr Americans place a full stop after an abbreviated title.  We don’t.
The realization that she was a part of this family… realization ⇒ realisation British English favours the -ise ending.

Other Checks

Original text Grammarly’s suggestion Comment
… and often talked of their plans for the future. talked of ⇒ talked about Preposition change.  Debatable.
One of her plaits had come undone, … Confused word: plaits ⇒ plants A context check that, in this case, suggests the wrong word.  Suggestion rejected.
“Anyway you have plenty of time for things like this.” Confused preposition: for things ⇒ to things Incorrect.
… had been told by the Ministry for War that,… Ministry for ⇒ Ministry of Well spotted by Grammarly.  The Ministry was named the Ministry of War.
“What’s up Michael?” she asked. Missing preposition: up ⇒ up to Incorrect.
… would also be devastated with this news. Confused preposition: devastated with ⇒ devastated by Subtle, but a correct suggestion.
“Well, I have some news too Mum,” Michael began tentatively. Possibly confused too and to. Too (as well) is correct.
Michael and Amy sat very close together on the bus… Adjective instead of adverb: close. The adjective close is modifying sat instead of a noun or pronoun. Use an adverb to modify a verb, adjective, or other adverb. Agreed, sort of.  I changed the sentence to read Michael and Amy sat closely together on the bus… although the Oxford dictionary defines close to be both an adjective and an adverb.
… and motioned towards a row of chairs facing the ornate carved fireplace,… Adjective instead of adverb: ornate ⇒ ornately Debatable.  Ornate is an adjective but I changed the wording to read … ornately-carved fireplace
“Let’s go then,” he said, hesitantly, not feeling at all confidant about the whole state of affairs… confidant ⇒ confident A homophonic error.
Back in her bedroom, as she began dressing herself for her wedding, Amy… Redundant reflexive pronoun: herself. I deleted herself.

When I’d finished looking at Grammarly’s suggestions for my friend’s manuscript (circa 15,500 words), I applied Grammarly to one of my books, already published (just under 88,000 words).   Grammarly flagged up 854 critical issues and 1381 advanced issues. Gulp!  The advanced issues are only visible if you pay to use the program. The critical issues are shown alongside the document however (see illustrative screen shot above) and I worked my way through them. Some issues were indeed errors on my part.  Some were clearly not issues at all.   And some issues were debatable.  Here’s a sample of the more interesting suggestions Grammarly found in my book:

Original text Grammarly’s suggestion Comment
… thus tempering my opinions and curbing my arrogance. curbing ⇒ kerbing Don’t agree.  There is a verb to curb.
It (File Explorer) is the most essential tool for figuring out where to save… most essential ⇒ an essential A good suggestion.
Numerous examples of two words that should be one or hyphenated or dehyphenated. pain killer ⇒ painkiller
world-wide ⇒ worldwide
high risk ⇒ high-risk
any more ⇒ anymore
over-paid ⇒ overpaid
U turn ⇒ U-turn
help line ⇒ helpline
life style ⇒ lifestyle
chain saw ⇒ chainsaw
text books ⇒ textbooks
under-whelming ⇒ underwhelming
pipedream ⇒ pipe dream
… and several other examples.
I must consult my dictionary more often!
… or “Jezz, it’s time to blast off… Jezz ⇒ Jeez Mea culpa!
None of the reports go into the detail… go ⇒ goes This suggestion assumes none is singular.  It can also be plural.
Then the three of us were placed around a small table… around ⇒ on No.  We were seated at the table, not placed around or on it!
Our breaths were bated. bated ⇒ dated No.  Our breaths were definitely bated.
The title to this blog is… to ⇒ of I agree with this change.
If so, you have become a smartphonolic (noun: a person addicted to their smartphone) and… smartphonolic ⇒ smart phenolic Smartphonolic is my invention.  I’ve added it to my personal dictionary in Grammarly.
… to the real world populated with real people. populated with ⇒ populated by I agree.
To Oscar Pistorious, ex-sprinter… Pistorious ⇒ Pistorius Tut, tut.  A bad mistake on my part.  Sorry Oscar.
She’s too busy chasing down illusive Pokémon Go creatures. illusive ⇒ elusive A homophonic error; another bad mistake on my part!  The two words are quite different in meaning.
You have not heard nothing yet technically means you… have not heard nothing ⇒ have not heard anything Exactly!
Plus, my wife will probably not agree to me taking an Ibizan sojourn! agree to ⇒ agree with No.  In this context, my wife has to agree to my Ibizan sojourn, not with.
Königsberg, now renamed Kaliningrad, is a town on the Preger River in Russia. Preger ⇒ Prager No.  The correct name for the river is Pragolya, Pragola, or Pregel so neither Grammarly nor I was correct.
… a healthy alternative to the more tasty fat-laden cheddar he loved,… more tasty ⇒ tastier Agreed.
Barbecues in the rain. Barbecues ⇒ Barbeques No.  My Oxford dictionary points out ‘that the spelling is barbecue, not barbeque, a form which arises from the word’s pronunciation and from the informal abbreviations BBQ and Bar-B-Q.
… to “prove” that each of these entities are zero. are ⇒ is Mea culpa again!
But, I draw the line at saying “Bill and me went to the shops”. me ⇒ I Precisely!
There are no officially-sanctioned rules but there are a multitude of opinions on what constitutes correct usage,… Second are ⇒ is i.e. …but there is a multitude of opinions… We could argue all night on this one.  Is multitude singular (the collective opinions) or plural (the individual opinions)?  I probably meant the latter and accepted the suggested correction.

Of the 854 critical issues, I responded positively to at least 100, maybe more, and learnt a very valuable lesson: I am fallible!  Many of my mistakes were double-worded spelling mistakes—two words or one, with or without a hyphen—and with punctuation but punctuation is always a bit iffy.  Would you add a comma after First in this sentence: First we open the book so that we can browse its contents?  Would you delete the colon after are in this sentence: Examples of popular search engines are: Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask.com, and so on?  The answers depend on how you would say each sentence aloud, with or without a slight pause after First; with or without a major pause after are.

 There were many other ‘errors’ I chose to ignore: suggestions I had used the wrong word (fire to replace ire, plants to replace plaits, started to replace startled,…); style issues (9 March 2017 instead of 9 March, 2017); and some very interesting suggestions for some French words I had used in one particular section of the book. But, overall, I gained a lot by subjecting my book to Grammarly and my conclusion is that the check is a useful adjunct to your own skills as a proofreader but requires you to have a good working knowledge of grammar in order to decide what to accept and what to ignore.  If you blindly accept all Grammarly’s suggestions, you will finish up with gobbledegook!

Test your skills

In one of the tables above, I wrote:

I changed the sentence to read Michael and Amy sat closely together on the bus… although the Oxford dictionary defines close to be both an adjective and an adverb.

I ran Grammarly on this comment and it suggested a change to one of the words.  What is the change and would you accept it?

Footnote

Once a week, Grammarly now invites me to upgrade to the professional version of their service.  Doing so will reveal the advanced issues.  In round figures, the current (April 2017) cost for the professional version is $30/month or $60/quarterly or $140/annually.  Ouch!  It’s not cheap but if I earned my living as a writer, as opposed to writing for fun, I might consider paying the annual subscription.  I am impressed with and suitably humbled by what Grammarly found in my book. Now I’m away to check my other ten books!

(^_^)

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