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July 10, 2017


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Thank you for the great topic.

Often my spell checker makes suggestions I don't think are correct. I usually search the internet to see which grammar rules apply. I'm not always correct either but I don't leave it to the computer.

Cathy Miller

Love these examples, Lynn. I have been known to shout at my computer, "Stop thinking for me!" ;-)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Joyce and Cathy,

Joyce, I'm glad you don't trust your grammar and spelling checker blindly. Every once in a while I learn something from mine. Sometimes it's to avoid phrases when one word will do. That's when I appreciate it. But usually I end up repeatedly clicking "Ignore."

Cathy, I can imagine you shouting. Does it work? (Smile.)


Cathy Miller

Unfortunately, it falls on deaf keyboards, Lynn. ;-)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Ha! Thanks for the hearty laugh, Cathy.


Marcia Yudkin

So are grammar checkers more trouble than they're worth? It seems their purpose is to help people who do not have a firm grasp of grammar. However, your article makes it seem that anyone who doesn't understand the rules runs the risk that relying on them and accepting their corrections might end up making more mistakes than otherwise.

When I think about this issue from the standpoint of people who have a shaky mastery of English, it seems that a grammar checker could actually get them into trouble.

What do you think, Lynn?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Marcia, thanks for asking about a side of the topic I had not explored. I don't think grammar and spelling checkers are more trouble than they are worth, but they certainly can cause trouble.

I know the rules, but my grammar and spelling checker flags items I have overlooked in my draft. For example, sometimes I start a sentence with the sluggish "There are" or "There is," and my checker reminds me to cut it and cut to the chase. (Example: "There is one more item I want to mention" becomes "I want to mention one more item.") Also, I generally avoid passive verbs, but my checker flags any that appear in my writing, which gives me a chance to rethink my choices. And occasionally a typo leads me to subject-verb disagreement, and I appreciate the nudge to add an s.

You are right that people who don't know the rules of English well can be misled by their grammar and spelling checker. In many business writing classes, an individual has defended an odd choice with "Microsoft told me to do it that way." And yet for virtually every point flagged, Microsoft provides an explanation and examples, as other software programs do.

For instance, I just copied your comment into a Word document. It flagged your second sentence with the comment "Wordiness (consider revising)." An explanation followed, saying, "You may be using more words than you need to express your idea. Consider deleting introductory phrases such as 'there is,' 'there are,' 'it is,' and 'it was' for a more forceful and convincing tone." Several examples followed that explanation.

An excellent writer like you might read the comment and say, "No, I intentionally began with 'It seems' because I want to be tentative rather than emphatic here." A less experienced writer might puzzle over the advice--or automatically drop "It seems," with a resulting unfortunate shift in tone.

I wouldn't tell anyone to avoid running a check of grammar and spelling because of the trouble it might cause. As you can guess, I would rather encourage people to recognize the limitations of their programs and to learn the rules and how to apply them. That way, they can more confidently decide when to ignore or accept suggestions.

Thanks for the engaging question!


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