Grammar checkers: how much faith should you place?

Before I really get into depth, I want to say a few things about grammar checkers. Firstly, I utilise them for every piece of writing I publish. Whenever I complete a copy edit for a client, I’ll use them as a final check. I like using them and believe that they are really good for your peace of mind. This post isn’t going to say that you should never use them or that they are evil. My goal with this post is to shed some light and drop some truth bombs for those of you who constantly use them.

What actually are grammar checkers?

A grammar checker is something that you might use alongside a programme like MS Word, Google Docs, or any writing-based software. Huge internet-based examples are Grammarly or Scribens. You can run them alongside anything you’ve written and they will give you corrections or suggestions to hopefully boost and perfect your writing. If spelling isn’t your forte or you feel unconfident about your colons, they’re an excellent tool to support your writing and help you look more professional.

How do they actually work?

For the most part, a grammar checker is almost like a huge database, filled with dictionaries, rules, meanings, and algorithms. The database will take your writing and look for patterns of error. The people who programme these checkers are probably exceptional at writing very long and complicated lists!

Why should you use grammar checkers?

Before I move on to explaining why you should show a little caution with grammar checkers, I’ll list the good stuff!

  • To become more confident with the language you’re writing.
  • Improve your writing knowledge.
  • Saves you time if you’re editing and proofreading alone.
  • Can increase your vocabulary and decrease repetitive words.
  • Allows you to check as you write.
  • Gives you free options if you have no budget.

Why should you show caution?

  • They won’t show every error.
    – Some programmes are limited to showing you more common errors. Grammar is a very complicated thing, and databases can only help with so much.
  • Can lead to complacency.
    -If you only rely on grammar checkers to do the work for you, you might be limiting your knowledge and ability to write.
  • Can find problems that don’t actually exist.
    -This can be related to the type of language your writing in. For example, writing British English but using a checker designed for American English. Errors will flag up that are actually correct.
  • Homonyms
    -Grammar checkers can really struggle with words that are spelled or pronounced in the same way but actually have different meanings—e.g. their, they’re, there.
  • Compound words
    -If you place two words together to become one word—e.g. anything, anymore, everyday, background, grammar checkers may get confused on which variation is correct.
  • They’re not the same as a human editor
    -As humans, when we read, we can pick up on so much about writing—flow, readability, rhythm, slang. Grammar checkers can struggle with all of these things. They aren’t designed to read something like an actual editor would. Alongside this, when an editor will give you advice, you can better understand it and improve your knowledge for next time.

What should you take away from this post?

I believe that the main thing to bear in mind is that grammar checkers are not the be-all and end-all. Don’t place all your faith in them, because they’re not going to find absolutely every error. They can encourage you to get a little lazy with your writing. However, they’re a great tool for last-minute checks, and to help your peace of mind. I know that they’re free too, which is really good if you’ve got a non-existent budget for proofreading. However, depending on what you’re writing and who will be reading, I’d think really carefully about utilising an editor or proofreader to look over your work. There are tons of reasons as to why you should use a professional to fix your grammar and boost your writing, I’ve written a little about it here.

I hope this post may have provided you with a little clarity on when and why you should use grammar checkers. I may have spilled some tea and dropped some truth bombs, but it’s all to help you and your writing!

Published by Amy Ollerton

Hi! I'm Amy—a professional copy editor and proofreader living in the beautiful Scottish Highlands. I provide friendly, personalised services that boost writing while retaining the author's unique style and voice. I write a little myself, shown through my blog. Alongside my work, I read books, enjoy baking, and explore the Highlands with my partner and my dog, Lula. If you've ever any editing queries, feel free to get in touch!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: