Gramlee Blog

Grammar checker on autopilot – 5 mistakes most computers fail to catch

Software grammar checker puts your writing on autopilot

The advent of algorithmic spelling and grammar checkers in the 1970s was a natural result of the development of word processors. Poor spellers and writers could rely on computers to catch their dirty deeds. Those for whom English was a second language had a tool that promised freedom to communicate with native English speakers.

The sophistication of grammar checkers has expanded considerably with advances in artificial intelligence. Many software packages claim to have the power to make your writing almost perfect. Unfortunately, if you are hoping to push your writing through a grammar checker on autopilot, you need to know that there are mistakes that computers do not catch. There are also “grammar mistakes” that software catches that aren’t mistakes at all. These are known as false positives. Here are five common mishaps that grammar checker software on autopilot succumbs to.

1. Homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same but mean different things and are spelled differently. Words like through/threw, accept/except, passed/past, buy/by/bye, fair/fare, and scene/seen. Homophones are especially toxic when using voice recognition software.

Holding your document hostage to autopilot grammar checkers may turn your writing into schizophrenic literature.

2. Formatting errors

Unless a grammar checker is designed to catch formatting errors, it’s not going to catch things like paragraphs spacing or indentation. Some things are visual and need to be seen by human eyes. You can’t trust MS Word to place page breaks in the correct location. Sometimes corruptions or flawed programming code destroys the formatting of your document.

3. Clichés

Since clichés aren’t technically grammar errors, autopilot grammar checkers give them a passing grade. However, good writers avoid clichés like the plague. Nothing gives your audience permission to snooze more than a well-placed cliché.  A well-trained copy editor is the only way to avoid this sin.

4. Flipped spellings

Some spellings are commonly inverted, such as form/from and sing/sign. Or, you may have a tendency to add an extra letter to some words as you type such as attach and attaché. You may also drop a letter such as in you versus your or the versus them. Autopilot grammar checkers will overlook this mistake. Once again, advantage humans.

5. False positives

Certain grammar semantics cause MS Word to throw false positives. The computer catches what it believes is a mistake, but it really isn’t a mistake! I’ve lost count of the number of times MS Word’s grammar checker has incorrectly asked me to change you to your.

There will always be grammar nuances beyond the scope of what an algorithm can correctly comprehend. Grammar checking software is tremendously useful as a first pass at cleaning a messy manuscript. It can save costs and improve accuracy when employed as a pre-copyediting tool. However, sole reliance on autopilot isn’t done in the airline industry, and you shouldn’t either.

It’s good practice to use the strengths of both human and computer editors. Your final product and audience will thank you for it.