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Don’t Be Fooled by Microsoft’s Non-Errors

In Microsoft Office the grammar and spelling checker often flags non-errors. It flags certain constructions that have "fooled" the software into detecting a possible error. 

My grammar and spelling checker flagged a potential error in each item below. But don't be fooled! Each item is correct.   

  1. I am wondering who they are and how to reach them.
    Microsoft suggests changing who to whom, but the sentence requires the subject pronoun who.
  2. Thank you for letting Michael know about the situation.
    Microsoft suggests changing know to knows, which is obviously incorrect.
  3. This magazine may give you ideas for decorating the kitchen.
    Microsoft suggests replacing you with your–wrong!
  4. Suzan says it is difficult to write about herself.
    Microsoft suggests replacing herself with her, which changes the meaning.
  5. Treasurer’s Report (as a heading)
    Microsoft suggests replacing Treasurer's with "Treasurer is."
  6. Kate, thank you for your help.
    Microsoft flags this as a fragment, but it is a perfectly fine sentence.
  7. Please look over your bid to see if there is anything you can do to lower the price.
    Microsoft suggests a comma after anything–wrong!
  8. Thanks, Bob!
    Microsoft suggests deleting the comma, but the comma is required in direct address.
  9. She earned a master’s degree in communication from the University of Notre Dame.
    Microsoft wants to capitalize of–wrong!
  10. The session will run from 1 to 5 p.m.
    Microsoft wants to change 1 to one–wrong!
  11. We need to know our guest's preferred dinnertime.
    Microsoft suggests "guest has" rather than the possessive form guest's.
  12. I have taught thousands of professionals at all organizational levels.
    Microsoft suggests professional's and professionals'–both are wrong.

In many of the examples, you can tell why the software was fooled. For instance, "Michael know" would be wrong in most sentences, but not in the construction "Thank you for letting Michael know." The number 1 is often spelled out, but not with a.m. or p.m. Guest's can mean "guest has," but not in Item 11.  

Before you accept a change your grammar and spelling checker suggests, be sure you understand it. In Microsoft Office, click "Explain" when your software offers that option, and see if the explanation makes sense. If you aren't sure whether your sentence is correct, try revising it in a way that makes sense to you.

Does your grammar and spelling checker find other non-errors? Please share them here.

Learn about our business writing courses, including Proofread Like a Pro and Punctuation for Professionals. 

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “Don’t Be Fooled by Microsoft’s Non-Errors”

  • Thanks for another great post, Lynn. I advise my authors to turn off “the green squigglies” as often as possible. I can tell when they’ve just accepted Word’s suggestions, since the doc is loaded with the kinds of things you list above.

    What I find most irritating is that Word consistently flags my name as something that shouldn’t be capitalized! It is not, and never has been, my goal to be the next e.e. cummings.

  • Hi, Darin. How weird that Word flags your name to be lowercase! But you can stop it from doing so. Here’s how:

    When Word flags the name, click the “Add to Dictionary” option. With your name added to the dictionary the way you want it capitalized, Word will not flag it. In fact, it may be flagging it now because somehow your name was added to the dictionary in a lowercase version.

    I appreciate your comment. Thanks for stopping by.


  • Hi Lynn,

    Microsoft office flags the error for below line also.

    Please advise.

    But microsoft suggests to replace advise with advice.

    But I think advise is correct.

  • Hi,Lynn,

    If I begin a clause with But,or and,(person’s name), (e.g. But,Melissa,we’re not going today), it suggests that I use However,or Nonetheless. I think this is wrong.

  • Hi, Glenn. It is fine to use “but,” “and,” and “or” at the beginning of a sentence. But their use is considered slightly informal. So feel free to use those words as sentence openers in any message or document that is not formal.

    By the way, your grammar and spelling checker probably flags those conjunctions at the beginning of any sentence, not just sentences in which you use a person’s name.


Comments are closed.