The Problems with Spell Check and Grammar Check

Have a big essay due?  Have it all polished up and ready to go?  Just give it one final run through the spell check program included on your computer, and you’ll be guaranteed to get a good grade, right?

Not so much.  While computer spell checkers are an incredibly useful tool and have generally improved the quality of spelling in most of the documents we edit, it’s not a silver bullet that prevents all mistakes from slipping through.  There are a couple things to watch out for if you overly rely on your spelling and grammar checkers.

Spell Check Will Miss Things

First of all, a spell check program will rarely have proper names included.  Sure, they’ll be able to tell if you’ve misspelled a famous city like London or New York, but try giving it a smaller, more local name—like Wabansia, Kinzie or Lamon, and you’ll quickly find your document riddled with “errors” that are actually correct.  If you just spam your spellchecker and accept what it says without thinking about it, you could accidentally riddle your text with a bunch of incorrect names and places.

They also can’t tell the difference between homonyms.  There and their and they’re all will pass muster from spell check, as will then and than and loose and lose.  If you don’t know which word to use, your spelling checker won’t be able to help you.  That’s why it’s important to study your homonyms, or you’ll end up with an article filled to the brim with the wrong words, like in this humorous poem.

Grammar Check is Hit-And-Miss

But, you say, just because my spell check program doesn’t pick up the homonyms, surely my grammar checker will come to the rescue!  In actual fact, however, grammar checkers are significantly worse than spell checkers at this point, because English is hard.  Our computer intelligence isn’t yet at the point where they can correctly figure out the meaning of every sentence, so they’re plugging sentences into a database of rules and trying to find patterns that fit or don’t fit.

This leaves things as a mess.  It will highlight false positives—claiming a sentence is a run-on or a fragment when, in actuality, it’s grammatically fine.  It will miss bad grammatical statements that are obvious to the human eye, as well.  Look at the following sentence:

This webpage and that book is a good resource for grammar issues.

That sentence is grammatically incorrect—because we’re talking about multiple sources, it should be “this webpage and that book are good resources”—it’s a compound plural.  However, according to Microsoft Word’s grammar checking program, it’s perfectly fine.  It’s reading “that book is…”, and wrongly thinking that we’re just talking about one thing.  The computer can’t see the problem; an actual English speaker can.

That doesn’t mean you should entirely ignore your spelling and grammar checkers.  I rely on my spell check program all the time, especially on long words I always seem to misspell, such as “fortunately”, “rhythm,” or even “misspell” itself.  Grammar checking also serves as a good warning—even the best writers occasionally forget a comma or a period, and there are times when grammar checkers will catch that.

Neither replaces a good old fashioned proof-reading, however.  Always, always, always give your articles and essays a final read-through—out loud, if possible—to catch grammar and spelling mistakes.  You’ll find your accuracy improves dramatically.

If you’re less confident about your spelling or grammar skills, and you want to make sure your essay is as good as it can be, why not stop by Wordsmith Essaysorder page today?  Our team of professional editors will give your essay a polish and make sure everything is in order.   We’re more than happy to give you all the help you could possibly need to make sure your ideas come through clearly.


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