Friday, February 4, 2011


It seems that computers can do just about anything these days. A fan of the television show Jeopardy, I've been watching with interest the show's commercials for the upcoming contest between two former champions and an IBM supercomputer. (In test runs, the computer has beaten its human opponents—just barely.)

Maybe that computer could serve as a copy editor. But the software grammar checkers now available to us still cause more problems than they solve.

Take Grammarly, which bills itself as the "world's most accurate grammar checker" and charges a small monthly fee for unlimited use. This is an attractive notion for me—I often serve as my own copy editor, and it can be difficult to proof and edit one's own writing.

So, expecting to be humbled, I ran an article I'd recently written—"Selling Yourself in the Job Interview"—through Grammarly.

I was disappointed with its first suggestion. Grammarly believes the persistent grammar myth about not ending a sentence with a preposition. Yes, you should avoid ending sentences with unnecessary prepositions, as in "Where is the car at?" But any copy editor who suggests replacing the perfectly acceptable sentence "I have no idea what the professor is talking about" with the sentence "I have no idea about that which the professor is talking" (as Grammarly did) should be fired immediately.

Grammarly incorrectly identified the subject of this sentence: "Offering solutions to these problems is a great way to overcome a lack of directly applicable experience." It suggested that the subject of this sentence was plural, and that "is" was incorrect. It is not. (This inability to correctly handle subject-verb agreement is common to computer grammar checkers.)

Grammarly didn't like this sentence either: "Prepare three or four effective sound bites that highlight your past successes and your skills." It suggested, instead: "Prepare three or for effective, sound bites that highlight your past successes and your skills."

That suggested comma is especially problematic—because comma usage is difficult to master, and many writers might not know that it would be incorrect here. (Grammarly thought that "sound" was an adjective, not part of the compound noun "sound bites.")

Grammarly suggests removing all contractions from your writing. This is a good suggestion for a lot of formal and academic writing. It also made a potentially helpful suggestion about removing the word "specific" (a word that is often redundant). But all in all, this grammar checker wanted to insert too many errors. I can't recommend it.


Sentenceworks said...

Charles Purdy,

My name is Kimberly Joki. I am the Community Manager for Grammarly. With over 500,000 users, we are constantly trying to improve our product and services. Considering this, I want to thank you for your feedback and let you know that we take it very seriously. I've already forwarded your link to our entire staff.

If you have any further comments or suggestions, please let us know. You can contact us via or via Facebook and Twitter.

Again, thank you for the feedback, and we hope that soon we can change your opinion of our product.


Kimberly Joki
Community Manager
Grammarly and Grammarly@edu

LKU said...

Thank you for the detailed review, Charles. I am glad now that I did not sign up for this service.

LKU said...

Thank you for the detailed review, Charles. I am glad I did not sign up with this service.