Online grammar checkers – is Grammarly really worth it?

“I use Grammarly’s free online grammar check because even the best writers make missed stakes.”

I recently stumbled across Grammarly, a tool that claims to be “The World’s Best Grammar Checker”.  According to the website, Grammarly is “an automated proofreader and your personal grammar coach” that corrects “up to 10 times” more mistakes than many of the most popular word processor packages. Bold claims indeed, though such powers of proofreading do not come cheap. At the time of writing Grammarly is charging $29.95 per month, or $139.95 for a whole year. That’s £18.56 per month or £86.74 per year for users based in the UK.

But is the system any good? Come to that, can any automated proofreader really substitute for a bit of good old-fashioned honest toil?

The positives

Included in the Grammarly package you can take advantage of a range of tools that go above and beyond the sorts of things you can expect from your everyday run of the mill word processor. These include adaptive spell checking – that is, spell checking that adapts to the context in which you are writing. It should therefore (hopefully) spot the kind of mistake that I highlighted in my rather tongue-in-cheek introduction. It should also spot the mis-use of “two” and “too” and other such common errors.

Another useful inclusion is the ability to look up context optimised synonyms. This can be quite helpful if you’re looking for the perfect word to give your writing a much-needed boost. It can also save you from the sorts of errors that can make a good piece or writing fall completely flat. I once knew a writer who was looking for another word for “hands”. Unfortunately, the word she chose was “paws”. Really, you might think this would have given her “paws” for thought (!), especially given the fact she was writing a crime thriller, but apparently the idea of a mobster holding a gun in his paws didn’t seem in the slightest bit strange. If she had used Grammarly, you would hope that she wouldn’t have made the same mistake.

All of these things are of course very useful, and can help to improve the quality of your job application, your C.V., your essay or even, dare I say it, your novel. There is also an MS Word plugin module, which is a particular bonus, though currently this is not available for Mac users.

So far so good, but are there any downsides?

Question marks

The first and most obvious issue with Grammarly, in my mind, is the cost.  After all, £20 per month is a lot of money. But then, the system does have its uses. As a professional writer, I would consider subscribing for a month if say, I had a particularly large piece of work I wanted to check over. Proofreading lengthy documents is no easy task, and even the best proofreaders can make mistakes. As an “extra pair of eyes” then, I think Grammarly and other tools like it are excellent.

And yet still a part of me does have some niggling doubts.

First and foremost, I would like to see a little more transparency in regards to the tool’s academic credentials. Who exactly is in charge of setting what is “right” and what is “wrong”? Does Grammarly have a board of academic advisors? If so, who are they? If Grammarly is to be taken seriously, then it needs to address these issues and open itself up to accountability. After all, this is the English language we are talking about here, and I am sure I am not the only person who finds it rather uncomfortable, to think that just about anyone could be setting the rules and processes vetting the grammar “rules”.

Secondly, having searched the internet for reviews of Grammarly, I think it is clear that the system is not without its faults, and it is certainly not the “silver bullet” to better writing that it claims to be. While I accept that the Grammarly probably is one of the best proofreading tools out there, being one of the best does not make it perfect, and I worry that many people might be mistaken into believing the system is a full-proof way to improve the quality of their writing.

This ties in with a much broader concern I have about Grammarly and other such tools; namely that they run the risk of being used as a form of crutch. Just how many people will use this tool in place of taking the time to learn the basic rules of grammar? How many would prefer to pay £20 per month to “artificially” raise the standard of their written communication? While I accept that it would be completely wrong of me to claim that Grammarly is at fault for declining standards of written English, there is clearly a broader issue here that goes far beyond the scope of this one humble blog post.

Having said this I do think there is an issue with some elements of the way in which Grammarly is marketed. Most notable is the fact that it is sold on the fact that it can help with academic essays. The marketing material even claims that the tool can check for plagiarism. To me, this would seem to cross the line for what is good, responsible marketing. If Grammarly is to truly establish itself as the “world’s leading” grammar tool, then it really should look at the way it markets itself to the academic establishment. After all, plagiarism is essentially cheating, and I think it would be wise to avoid any associations as such – however well intended they may be. While I accept that the tool’s creators cannot shoulder responsibility for the way that people use it, I do think that every effort should be made to market the product in a way that does not encourage its mis-use.

Closing comments

Marketing issues aside, I do think Grammarly is a good product. It is well designed, and it certainly has a lot to offer the user beyond what you might find in your everyday word processor. Cost issues aside, as an online grammar checker, Grammarly is certainly leading the way. However it is still far from perfect and I do have a number of reservations that I would like the see addressed. The product is not yet fully localised for the UK and we can only hope that the price will drop. When Grammarly does receive its proper launch in the UK, I will be sure to look at it again.

2 thoughts on “Online grammar checkers – is Grammarly really worth it?”

  1. Richard Hoffman

    How is saying that it checks for plagiarism a bad thing? I think that it is a very useful tool that can be used by both teachers and students. For example, what if after reading an article as research for an academic paper a student attempts to recall the information. Without realising it, they phrase something exactly as they read it in the article. The plagiarism checker would make them aware of their error and they would know to fix it. Also, a student could forget a citation. Accidents happen and this is an excellent way to prevent it.

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