It seems that everywhere I look, I see adverts for Grammarly. They have video ads on YouTube and targeted ads on Facebook, Twitter, and Google. I cannot seem to escape their promises of better English performance.
It may seem slightly strange to you, but Grammarly is quite common among native speakers and for good reason. Their software helps you to find mistakes in your spelling and grammar, and then it will prompt you to make changes. This is great for finding silly typos that would otherwise ruin an important e-mail.
Some of my writing correction students want to know whether Grammarly can help them their English writing skills, and it is actually a complex question that requires a long answer. If you are interested, then keep reading.
What is Grammarly?
Grammarly is a piece of software that helps you find errors in your writing. It works as an extension for your browser, a plugin for Microsoft Word, and as a standalone app. It automatically checks your writing and gives you feedback.
This feedback picks up on grammar mistakes, typos, and can also provided feedback on tone (ie it will let you know if you are using informal language in a formal context). As such, it has some definite benefits for people who are learning English.
Is Grammarly Accurate?
To put it simply, Grammarly can find a lot of mistakes in your work but it is not 100% accurate. In fact, as a professional writer and editor I find that it also makes some errors and misses many mistakes.
I personally use Grammarly as a Google Chrome extension but I long ago stopped using it for Microsoft Word. It is quite helpful to have it tell me about typos in my Facebook comments or e-mails, but for serious writing I find it more of a distraction.
Let’s look at some examples to see how good Grammarly really is:
You can see here that Grammar has identified two mistakes. If you hover over those mistakes with your mouse, it will explain that they are both about articles. It suggests changing the first to “the public” and the second to “a ticket.”
Is this correct?
Yes and no. The first one is correct and the second one is an improvement, but it is not correct. In fact, this passage should be changed more substantially. If someone submitted this as part of my writing correction service, I would make the following changes:
You can see that Grammarly picked up two mistakes and partially corrected them, while an experienced editor was able to find many more errors. I would also provide some feedback about other, non-grammatical issues. For example, you should not say “it is an undeniable truth” because everything is technically deniable. This would harm your score for Task Achievement.
Testing Grammarly Against a Real Editor
It is unfair to make judgments based upon just one example, so let’s look at a few more. I will gather some genuine pieces of writing by real IELTS candidates and then run them through Grammarly.
First, I will show you the video version, but I will include the individual corrections below, too.
You can see that Grammarly has identified several errors here. If you hover the mouse over them, you can see that they will explain a little about the problem:
However, has Grammarly caught all of the mistakes? No, of course not. Here are the changes that I would identify for my students:
Again, you can see that I have identified many more errors. What is worrying is that Grammarly overlooked the most serious ones. Even if this candidate made Grammarly’s changes, his writing would still contain some very big problems. As such, it is clear he could not rely purely on Grammarly for corrections.
Here we have some more corrections. But there is a problem: It has identified “globalized” as a spelling mistake because it is in American English, whereas my Grammarly settings are for British English. For IELTS, you can use either British or American English, but you cannot mix the two forms. However, if you made this change, you would have “globalization” (American) and “globalised” (British). This would be a bigger problem!
The other corrects are right, but they are not complete. There is more that Grammarly has missed:
Again, I have made more substantial changes. It is also noticeable that I made “globalized world” into “globalization” because the former really has no meaning. I have also identified that the tense of “considered” was incorrect. This is an observation about a general truth, not something that happened in the past.
Finally, here we can see even more mistakes identified by Grammarly. But how does it compare to a real editor?
Once again, I have found many more mistakes. Part of the problem here was that the text made very little sense and it took real human intuition to find out what this person intended to say and then suggest corrections.
Note: In my writing correction service, I also provide extensive feedback so that I would explain each of these errors in detail.
Grammarly vs Microsoft Word Spellcheck
I want to just briefly mention that MS Word’s spellcheck feature is quite useful for pointing out mistakes in your writing. However, it is more limited than Grammarly and will only point out a few things. Here, it is has underlined spelling errors in red and suggested other changes in blue. The other changes often involve formality, which is quite useful.
Conclusion – Can Grammarly Help You Learn English?
Grammarly is pretty useful but it is far from perfect. It will almost certainly help you to find some mistakes in your work, and if your English is already good then it might prevent you from making some embarrassing typos. However, we are a long way from having perfect AI correction software and until then you will still need a human editor to find your errors.
As for IELTS, there are some more complex things to worry about. For a start, you cannot use Grammarly in an exam! This is obvious, but if you practise with Grammarly at home then you might become reliant upon it to find your mistakes. Maybe it is better to find them yourself.
Keep in mind that Grammarly sometimes gets things completely wrong, especially in very complicated sentences. I have seen it make outrageous suggestions that would completely ruin the sentence, so if you do use it then you also need to apply your own judgment.