How reliable is Word's grammar checker?


I am a foolish. How s you.

Do these sentences have grammar problems?

Because I think foolish is an adjective.

In general, how reliable is Word's grammar checker? What do I have to watch out for?


Posted 2013-06-25T01:51:12.577

Reputation: 509

Suggested reading:

– snailplane – 2013-06-25T02:09:08.570



  1. An odd fact of English, which differentiates it from all the other (European) languages I have even a smattering of, is that English adjectives are not ordinarily used as nouns.

    That means that 'a foolish' is in most contexts ungrammatical, since foolish is an adjective and the article a marks what follows as a noun. You must say either

    I am a fool    or
    I am foolish.

  2. How s you (I assume this is a typo for How is you? or How's you) is ungrammatical. In this instance, you acts as the subject of the verb, which therefore must be are.

You cannot always trust Word for the subtleties of the language; but it will flag these every time, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred it will be right.

There are two major exceptions to this:

  • You may speak of the ADJECTIVE when you mean everybody who is (or everything which is) ADJECTIVE:

    The meek shall inherit the earth.  It is those who are meek who will inherit the earth.
    We should be kind to the poor.  We should be kind to everyone who is poor.

    But you cannot extend this use to individuals—cannot, for instance, say

    I gave $20 to a poor this morning.
    The poors who live under the bridge need winter clothing.

    You must say a poor man or the poor people.

  • You may use ADJECTIVE as a noun when ADJECTIVE designates members of a category of objects or people which is either self-evident or has been specifically delineated. For instance, if someone offers you your choice of red, yellow and green T-shirts you might say

    I'll take one of the greens or
    Could I have a red?

    Or if a test of a skill divides people into 'poor', 'fair', 'good' and 'excellent' performers, you may have to admit that

    I'm a poor.

marks a usage as unacceptable

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2013-06-25T01:51:12.577

Reputation: 176 469

Aren't your two exceptions basically the same? Aren't "the poor" members of a category of people? – The Photon – 2013-06-25T03:00:29.000

1@The Photon: Clearly not, syntactically speaking, since a poor can't ask for a red, whereas StoneyB's speaker quite validly did. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-06-25T03:34:15.890

I see there's a difference, but I am not sure we've explained the distinction well. Why is "poor" not usable in the second situation..."I'll take one of the poors [out to dinner]". Is "poor" not a category of objects or people? – The Photon – 2013-06-25T03:44:21.650

@ThePhoton You're right, I need to modify ... hang on. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-06-25T03:52:35.270

@ThePhoton As to your first question: No, "the poor" are not members of a category (members are a poor + a poor + a poor + ...); they are the category. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-06-25T04:15:21.147


Can you list some examples that with grammar errors/mistakes which will escape the grammar checker of Word?

Honestly, there are too many mistakes which Microsoft Word doesn't catch to list. In fact, Microsoft Word is fairly notorious for the unreliability of it's grammar check. The Word grammar check should not be relied on for checking the grammar of any important document.

To give you an example, the following except is from an example file which contains no grammar or spelling errors according to Microsoft Word 2010 (English US Dictionary & Grammar Rules). Please note that while the examples have no grammar errors, they are completely nonsensical due to semantic errors. This demonstrates the danger of learners relying entirely on a grammar check.

ESL Writing Samples

Sample 1
It's tell what kinds of animals that we treat badly. This issue also hope that someday the creature of human and other animals are live peacefully on earth so this animal doesn't have to suffering terrible death the pain in which they suffering.

Sample 2
I am agree with what the article say because if we are not care about the animals, they got wild animals from zoos because the got make foot, hand and everything for what they need.

Sample 3
Devlin also seem eerie of the fact that we are evading their homes and wildlife.

More on the shortcomings of Word's grammar check as researched by a university professor here.


Posted 2013-06-25T01:51:12.577

Reputation: 1 991

2Don't knock Word's grammar checker unless you've tried to write your own. Seriously, natural-language processing is HARD. – Martha – 2013-06-25T18:11:03.453

3@Martha As the professor of my NLP class once said: "The best way to do natural language processing is not to try to do natural language processing." – Daniel – 2013-06-25T19:38:32.187

1Yes, it's hard, and such tools are necessarily imperfect. That's okay, as long as the companies selling these tools are honest about what they can and can't do. However, when such tools are oversold, they absolutely deserve criticism. People's expectations need to be corrected. – snailplane – 2013-06-25T19:52:23.677

The examples suffer from serious "colorless green ideas sleep furiously" type semantic problems, but if you do your best to ignore the denotation of the words (it's really, really hard), they look grammatically correct. For example, in the last one, if you assume that "Devlin" is a plural word, you just have "[Plural noun] also [3rd person plural verb] [adjective] of the fact that we are [gerund] their [plural noun] and [plural noun]." With the appropriate substitutions, this is a perfectly fine sentence. – Martha – 2013-06-25T20:12:29.067

My point is, at least for those examples, Word is right: the examples don't contain any grammar or spelling errors. They don't make any sense, but that's separate from grammar. It's fine to rail against clueless writers who rely on automatic tools to do things they aren't meant to do; it's not fine to rail against the tools themselves. – Martha – 2013-06-25T20:15:47.487

@Martha : My intention is not to attack Word or any other grammar check, and I apologize if it came off that way. My point is learners cannot rely on Word's grammar check, or they risk ending up with technically correct but completely nonsensical sentences. Grammar checks are most useful for those who are already strong writers, and nearly useless for learners. And you are right that the mistakes in these examples are more semantics than grammar, nevertheless they are mistakes that many people rely on the grammar check to catch. – Walter – 2013-06-26T09:18:11.207