Many people don’t put too much thought into how they write; they tend to shrug it off and assume it doesn’t matter so long as they are understood. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Good grammar is not only vital for concise communication, but it is also indicative of attention to detail, critical thinking and intellectual aptitude. This article examines some advanced grammar checker extensions for your word processor and browser.
Spell Checker Flaws
The built-in office tools are great at performing non-contextual spell checks, but fall short when it comes to higher level editing. A document may seem error free in a word processor, but may still contain several grammatical errors.
The following spelling checker poem, written by Jerrold H. Zar in 1992, demonstrates the weakness of standard proofing tools:
I have a spelling checker.
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished inn it’s weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.
A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when aye rime.
Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o’er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.
Bee fore a veiling checkers
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we’re lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.
Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know faults with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.
Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped words fare as hear.
To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaws are knot aloud.
Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas
Paste the above poem into your word processor and take note of the number of errors highlighted. My word processor only catches 24 errors yet 123 of the 225 words are incorrect (despite being spelled correctly). The proofing suggestions are also quite comical, for example, my processor recommends I replace the word “Cheque” with “cheese”, “cheer”, “cheek”, “cherub” or “chute”. Only an advanced tool that considers the context in which words appear can catch the errors in the poem.
Technology is still playing catch-up when it comes to proofing tools, but grammar checkers are getting better by the day. If you use word processors on a regular basis, the following free plugins/extensions will greatly improve your writing quality. Office extensions are useful especially when you are working on lengthy documents that you don’t intend to email immediately or where you are preparing documents for print.
Ginger (Microsoft Office, Chrome, Firefox, Android)
Ginger uses patented algorithms to correct written sentences. Ginger Software, the company behind the tool, claims that its product can remedy 95% of writing errors. It corrects misspelled words, identifies contextual misuse and, recognizes and merges split words. Ginger also detects and corrects prepositions as well as other inflexions.
The plugin is compatible with Microsoft Office (Word, Outlook & PowerPoint only). It also comes as a Chrome and Firefox extension, which allows you to make corrections within your browser. See Danny’s article on how to use Ginger in Chrome and Firefox. For mobile devices, they have an Android app, the Ginger Spelling and Grammar Keyboard.
The application comes with a freemium license. The premium version includes all features of the freemium software, a text-to-speech reader and an English learning tutor. At the time of writing, the company’s website states that future versions will include vocabulary enhancements, insertion of missing words and verb tense correction.
LanguageTool (OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Firefox)
LanguageTool is an open source grammar checker extension for OpenOffice, LibreOffice and Mozilla Firefox. It also runs as a standalone Java application.
LanguageTool is the only grammar checker office plugin that supports several languages (29 at the time of writing). It also has support for some language variants. For example, the English version has support for Australian, Canadian, UK, New Zealand, South African and US English. The German version supports Austrian, German and Swiss variants.
LanguageTool detects grammatical errors based on rules expressed as XML. Users and the developer community create the rules. When analyzing for errors, the content is split into sentences and each sentence into tokens. Each token is assigned a tag based on its part-of-speech. For example, ‘bicycles’ is a plural noun and ‘rode’ is a simple past verb. The text is then matched against the rules to detect errors. Errors are highlighted in red squiggly text. The biggest advantage of LanguageTool is that anyone can contribute to the language rules. This input from many users has led to massive improvements in error detection over a relatively short period.
After the Deadline (OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Firefox, Chrome, WordPress)
After the Deadline (AtD) is a contextual grammar checker for OpenOffice and LibreOffice. It also has extensions for other applications such as Firefox, Chrome and WordPress.
When compared to LanguageTool and Ginger, AtD offers a couple of extra features. For example, AtD can differentiate between grammar and “style” problems. The style checker is turned off by default, but when activated it can identify passive voice, complex expressions, redundant phrases, double negatives and clichés. It also has detailed explanations for each error detected. Unlike LanguageTool that supports several languages, AtD only supports English.
And The Winner Is…
We tested each of the three tools above to see how they detected errors in the spell checker poem. Ginger was only able to detect to a few more errors than the built-in proofing tool in MS Word 2010. LanguageTool did a slightly better job as shown in the screenshot below.
After the Deadline did a superb job. The online version (same as the Open Office extension) detected over half the errors in the poem and actually suggested the correct contextual word as shown in the screen capture below.
At the end of the day, proofing tools are not a panacea for all grammatical errors. This is what the writer of the poem was alluding to when he initially wrote it. Do not assume that your document is error free, simply because errors aren’t highlighted. Proofing software can help improve your writing, but isn’t a substitute for learning how to write good grammar.
Do you know of a good free grammar checker extension for word processors? Please let us know in the comments below.
Image credit: LanguageTool