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Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Grammar Check Leaves Much to Be Desired

Dear John

The “Dear John” letter pictured above has been used for decades to illustrate the importance of punctuation.  Running each version of it through Microsoft Word reveals no errors and no mention of the existence of the other version. While spelling is fairly straight forward to check, grammar is much more ambiguous.  Depending on the context, the removal or addition of a comma can alter the entire meaning of a sentence with it still remaining grammatically correct.  This letter is a clear example of that!

Errors Grammar Check Cannot Find

Dr. Daniel Kies from the College of DuPage has researched the topic extensively for ten years.  By running text that contains 20 common usage errors through grammar checkers, he has documented how well they work. His findings aren’t pretty.  Not only did grammar checkers catch less than half of the 20 errors, they often offered the wrong advice for correcting the error.  He describes the results of his research and their importance much more eloquently than I could paraphrase it; please, please, please read it here on his web page.

One of the many grammar errors that grammar checkers cannot detect is the inappropriate use of an essential or non-essential clause. A single comma is all that differentiates the two.  This and other syntactical choices that are based on semantics will always give grammar checkers problems.

Computers cannot think and therefore cannot intuit meaning from words.  This limitation is why it is essential that you or someone you trust proofreads your work.  Do NOT rely on your word processor to catch grammar errors for you.

More Evidence on the Issue

With how easy it is for spell checking programs to make errors, it baffles me that anyone would put their trust in a program that attempts to check the correctness of grammar, a much more complex process.


I love the new layout : ) this is very nice. By the way, did anyone check open office to see if it made the same or similar mistakes. Since it's open source, I would hope people would revise it and be on top of its flaws, unlike microsoft.

Thanks, RC! I really loved the old green design, but there were so many issues with misaligned template parts and comment functionality being compromised that I decided to overhaul the whole page. I'm going to change the comment system soon, too, if I can since it's still a little buggy.

I love open-source software, too, RC! Grammar checkers are more difficult to look into than spelling checkers because of the proprietary code that companies are trying to come up with that will usher in the next best thing in grammar checking. The advantage to using OpenOffice over Microsoft, though, is the many grammar checker extensions you can install like LanguageTool or After the Deadline. You can have as many different grammar checkers go through your work as you have patience for in OpenOffice!

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