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Verbacious woman
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Dear Leslie, I used to teach writing, and I miss opportunities to preach... er, teach. So here goes my rant. If I use grammar checker (GC) at all, I do so with caution and great skepticism. It's like a drug. Misused, or overused, it can be hazardous to the world's grammatical health. Without proper vigilance, it can do more harm than good, steering completely off course those hapless souls who don't know a noun* from a verb from a participle from a hemi-semi-demi quaver; and whose dangling modifiers (my favorite) and other sundry infelicities will always escape the grammar net. Its** abhorrence of passive voice is particularly annoying--in part because it mistakes many active constructions for passive and also because, as you know, passive voice is sometimes preferable in a particular series of sentences, putting the emphasis right where it belongs. It also doesn't know the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive modifiers, and when to use 'which' or 'that'... GC doesn't like me any more than I like it. It is utterly flummoxed by sentences with embedded clauses and complex turns of phrase. I happen to be the sort of writer who routinely constructs sentences that mystify GC. I look at my document and see all of those annoying squiggly lines.... Right now I look at this e-mail and see 'doesn't' called out. What the--? No contractions allowed? Must we be so formal? I leave it turned on because once in a great while it catches something that I might have missed in the proofreading. And yet it misses real errors that might creep in during one of my less alert writerly moments. Whatever it tells me, I consult what I know to be true and right (in my very own head), and mostly ignore its wagging finger. It's a very unreliable and inconstant friend who needs constant monitoring and needs a stern rebuke now and then. (I've been known to swear at it.) I shudder to think how many people rely on grammar checker without being able to exercise independent judgment. Microsoft should issue an emphatic disclaimer: Use with caution! Do not operate while intoxicated! Use only in the presence of an authorized expert! As you rightly point out, not only is grammar checker often not right; it's often dead wrong, even asking writers to introduce errors into perfectly acceptable, if not elegant, sentences. Thanks for listening/reading! * I first wrote nun, which would not have been caught by spell checker. ** Eek. If I had typed 'it's,' would grammar checker have noticed or cared? It likes 'eek,' by the way.... Hm.