The first time I tried the Grammarly online writing tool, I admit that I was mostly interested in discovering its flaws. I was taken aback by what the app did well, though I’m not surprised (and hopefully not too smug) to know where it fell short. That was back in 2016. Grammar has grown and improved since then, with new features that let you choose the type of document you write and the type of audience that will read it.
Grammarly is a writing app that benefits all types of writers, from non-native speakers to busy professionals. It helps you nip typos, errors, and poor word choices in the bud. Even seasoned writers may find that sending their copy in for a quick spin via Grammarly compels them to at least reconsider a few words and phrases they may have forgotten.
What is grammar?
Grammatically analyzes writing and suggests improvements. Despite its name, Grammarly is much more than just a grammar checker. It looks for repetitive words, jargon, homonyms and hackneyed phrases, as well as words that non-native speakers commonly misuse.
Even if you reject its suggestions, Grammarly forces you to pause and reconsider your word choices.
There are two options for using Grammarly. The easiest way, though not my favorite, is to install an extension in Google Chrome and other apps so that Grammarly checks your work as you type. I don’t like this option because the immediate return is inconvenient; Also, I have privacy concerns about letting a plugin read everything I write all the time. The second option – and this is the method I use – is to write your document in whatever writing app or word processor you usually use, then paste your text into the Grammarly app. You can choose between a web app and a desktop app. This method works well for documents, but it’s not as convenient for email and other day-to-day business communications where copying and pasting between programs would cost you time.
Take Grammar for a Test Drive
When it’s at its best, Grammarly identifies vague words like “awesome” and suggests you swap them out for more descriptive words. It finds typos and offers corrections, which you can accept with a click. It highlights words you use frequently and recommends synonyms. Even if you reject its suggestions, Grammarly forces you to pause and reconsider your word choices, which is beneficial in itself.
When grammar is at its worst, it suggests words that alter the meaning of your sentences or reduce the effectiveness of intentionally reusing a word or phrase. My biggest disappointment came when Grammarly couldn’t figure out that “however” has more than one meaning, and it suggested I make a change that would have introduced an error. It can also be as difficult as an eighth grader in an advanced composition class on the use of commas. If only someone would tell Grammarly that most commas are discretionary.
Was I getting too cocky about my writing? Should I have accepted more suggestions from Grammarly? Questioning myself didn’t improve anything.
Professional and refined handwriting analysis
Out of curiosity and to check my sanity, I copied and pasted into Grammarly a creative non-fiction essay published in The Paris review. At the time of its publication, this piece had received all kinds of attention and praise. What would Grammarly think?
Grammar is better at catching silly mistakes than making something shine
I set goals for the play, calling it casual and aimed at a general audience. The analysis of this pro’s work was more or less the same. Grammarly believed that the word “character” could be changed to “style” even though the author was referring to a fictional person in this case. The app wanted “Tell me I look good” to be “Tell me I look good”, removing all of its power as a command. Could we add a few more commas? Grammarly thought so.
In short, you must have confidence in what you ignore of Grammar. It’s better for catching silly mistakes than making something shine.
Technological understanding of language
When I first discovered grammar, I got in touch with a computational linguist who works there, Mariana Romanyshyn. We talked via videoconference in 2016 about how difficult it is for computers to parse language and what Grammarly is doing to improve computer systems.
“The language is very ambiguous,” she said. “It’s not always possible for a machine to detect even the part of speech of a word.” She said Grammarly sometimes makes incorrect suggestions and misses errors due to part-of-speech tag limitations. “This ambiguity is a very tricky task for computers to resolve.”
I asked him for examples. “There’s this classic linguistic phrase: The old man the boat. The word ‘man’ is the verb.” In other words, it means “those who are old are the ones who hold the boat”.
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“An automatic language processing system would never be able to detect this,” Romanyshyn said. Machines will always assume “man” is a name in this context. Another example of a sentence that always fools computers is a sentence well known to linguists: “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo”. This is a grammatically correct sentence. Please think for a moment before reading about how to analyze it(Opens in a new window).
When it comes to privacy, be careful what you feed into Grammarly, as the company could possibly see everything it scans. PCMag reviewer Ben Moore discusses this topic in detail in his Grammarly review.
Grammar makes (bad) writing better
Since my first experience with the app, I’ve used it for a few writing assignments when an editor asked me to submit a grammar report alongside my copy. Another writing team I worked with urged all their writers to use the app to input and correct writing types. faux pas which made a grumpy editor even grumpier.
When I’m on a deadline and have only written the first draft, Grammarly does the annoying job of finding and bringing to my attention mistakes, typos, and unnecessary repetition. It’s a handy productivity hack. As I mentioned earlier, however, suggestions are only beneficial when I can confidently discard bad ones.
Grammar isn’t cheap either. The free version is limited, and Premium plans cost $30 per month, $60 per term, or $144 per year. But when you’re on schedule with an important piece of writing that you know could be improved, it can be money well spent.
Many people need help with their writing, sometimes in high-stakes scenarios. Job seekers working on cover letters only have one chance to make a first impression. Students may find that poor handwriting makes the difference between success and failure. And professionals who put on quarter-make-or-break presentations may still need help. Almost everyone has an interest in writing as clearly and as well as possible, and Grammarly can help, if you know enough to take their best suggestions and discard their worst.
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