Most people who advise on writing tell you to check the spelling and grammar on your work. This is good advice.
However, the trouble is that the tools we often use just aren’t up to the job. Many of us use Microsoft Word for writing, and its built-in spelling and grammar checker for checking our work.
In general, I don’t have an issue with the spell checker, though mine occasionally has a problem with the correct spelling of liaison. However, the MS Word grammar checker leaves a lot to be desired.
Grammar Checker Failings
I’m not the only one to feel this way. In fact, people have been complaining about it for years. Neurogrammar, which is admittedly biased, compares the results from its own grammar checker and Word. Ignore that if you want, but the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which presumably has no ax to grind, also wrote a piece on the failings of Word’s grammar checker.
These match my own experience with the tool. Generally, I write grammatically correct British English, but it only takes one typo to confuse the tool. The grammar checker will remind me about every instance of using passive sentences, but has some strange attitudes to noun and verb agreements.
Where Did It Go Wrong?
Proper names that end in an ‘s’ also confuse the grammar checker, and that’s not all. The University of Washington has some demos of where the grammar checker went wrong. (Check out the letter from Karen for a laugh.)
The study concluded that the grammar check worked better for good writers than for those who needed a lot of help. So, what’s a poor writer to do? The answer is to get some grammar help from different sources, and to proofread. Once you accept that the MS Word grammar checker can get it wrong, it’s amazing how many mistakes you will spot.