When you use Microsoft Word, do you also get distracted by the red and green wavy lines under words and phrases? Probably everybody does. The red lines are supposed to warn you that you misspelt a word.
If you copy this newsletter to Word, you will see what I mean. Misspelt is now underlined in red. Oops! What did I do wrong?
Let’s see what the checker suggests when I click on my right mouse button. All kinds of weird things. But all I did was use a Briticism. In British English “spelt” as the past tense of the verb “spell” is perfectly fine. But if your page in Word is set to English US-style, it will flag your version, because Americans write “spelled.”
I’m sure you’ve encountered such gems.
What possibly fewer people are aware of is that the grammar checker in Word is not infallible. I’m putting it gently. I’ve heard people fulminating at the “stupid” and “almost invariably wrong,” “useless,” “extraordinary bad” grammar “thingy” in Word. It really does blunder quite often.
How does it blunder? In two ways: first by showing you things that it thinks are wrong, but they’re not. But it just as happily skates over sentences that are wrong. In other words: when you want to check you grammar in Word, you can never be sure you did a good job.
I’ve collected some examples for you. The point of showing them to you is: learn your own spelling and grammar. Remember when you were in school, and you used to copy your neighbour’s answers, or maybe your neighbour copied from you? And didn’t it bring tears to your eyes afterwards when it turned out that your neighbour had made mistakes that you yourself would never have made, if only you had taken the trouble to learn your stuff? It’s the same with the computer. Use a computer to help you with many tasks, but don’t ever forget who’s in charge. Yes, I mean you!
The reports news they usually follow into ridiculous a.
The grammar thingy thinks this is a correct sentence. Hahaha! In fact, it’s a total mess.
Okay, seriously now. That was the worst sentence you will be getting today.
Barbies are between the most dedicated followers of fashion you can imagine.
Instead of “between” it’s better to use “among.” The grammar checker doesn’t mind.
The grammar checker has problems detecting singulars and plurals (just as a human being would, isn’t that cute?), as the following examples demonstrate:
One of the major reasons which makes me suitable for the position of Rights Programme Manager is my motivation to change people’s lives.
The spell checker suggests changing “makes” to “make.” But the subject that belongs to this verb is “one,” and not “reasons.” You say “one makes.”
Lying before them is the city wall winding over the crest, and the magnificent cathedral, with the towers of the palace protruding.
Spell Check is happy with this sentence. But instead of “is,” it should be “are.”
Blake would have been infinitely happier selling clothes or caring for older people, but these days neither are popular.
Spell Check thinks this is okay. However, after “neither,” the use of the singular verb (“is”) is standard, rather than the plural (“are”).
Wearing woolen socks makes your shoes seem smaller.
Wearing woolen socks make your shoes seem smaller.
Grammar Check approves both these sentences, but only the first one is correct.
For all his wild waving earlier on, the helicopter didn’t pick him up.
The green line is under “all his.” The odd thing is that if you replace “wild” with another adjective, the grammar checker approves the sentence.
My condolences on the sudden passing away of your father.
Word is clear on this and many other examples: The above sentence is a fragment, and needs to be corrected.
“Pleased to meet you.”
Another fragment that needs to be changed. However, if you’re writing a dialogue, it’s a normal phrase, isn’t it?
Look what happens when I remove the quotation marks (“).
Pleased to meet you.
Grammar Check thinks it’s okay now!
Goodness me, this place is a mess.
Grammar Check wants to change “me” to “I.” I don’t think that’s a good idea.
If Springfield wants to be the next Olympic City, that means that they’ll have to build some new roads.
Grammar Check proposes to remove the comma (,), or to write “which” in the place of “that.” That would be incorrect, however, because “which” leads in a nonrestrictive clause, and that is not the case here.
Grammar Check Doesn’t Distinguish between a Statement and a Question.
You will find that Grammar Check regularly wants you to end an affirmative sentence with a question mark (?). If you copy the following sentences to Word, you will see what I mean.
Don’t you worry now.
“So how did they meet?” asks a voice.
Grammar Check also finds it hard to distinguish between such forms as “it is” and “its,” and “you are” and “your.”
Look at these sentences:
“It’s part of the package, isn’t it.”
Grammar Check thinks it’s okay now.
Instead of “it’s,” Grammar Check wants to write “its.”
Your Highness, here is your tea.
Grammar Check wants to use “you’re” instead of “your.”
I think you get the picture. Hopefully, as I’ve said, all these examples convince you not to rely on Grammar Check. Computers can beat humans at chess, but not in language — not just yet.