Monday, February 6, 2012

Spellcheck: the ultimate frenemy

This is a real screenshot of my current work-in-progress (tentatively titled Faking the Aurora Borealis) being highlighted by Word’s built-in spelling and grammar proofing.

People of all ages are warned not to rely on spellcheck to proof their documents. As we’re all aware of, spellcheck doesn’t always distinguish correctly between heard or herd, or they’re and their, and sometimes it even incorrectly suggests changing it’s to its. We get it: spellcheck doesn’t always work.

But let’s not forget the other side of spellcheck—the grammar. (Is there such thing as grammarcheck? …Oh, probably not. My word processor just underlined the word. Think I should “add to dictionary”?)

Grammar proofing will pick things up like:

Fragments. These babies are vital in dialogue and interior monologue—in fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you have no fragments at all, you’re doing something wrong.

Order of words. Seventh graders won’t always speak in noun-verb-noun sentences, now, do they?

Improper grammar. Same as above. As well, when saying something like “I paused, then took a step back”, Word will insist on placing an “and” in front of the “then”. This has always bamboozled me. Anyone have an explanation?

Tense shifts. When your protagonist is thinking something, the tense is present. However, you may be writing in past. When the two tenses are cobbled together in one sentence, spellcheck throws a fit, as you can see from the image above.

Other languages. Word’s “detect language automatically” is a failure. My protagonist has a French background, and therefore French words are dropped here and there. And yet, simple things like oui (“yes”), non (“no”) and d’accord (“okay” or “I agree”) don’t get picked up. So either I live with the underlining, or manually highlight each word and change the designated language to French.


Now, to deal with these, you’ve got a few options.

Turn off grammar proofing. If you have Microsoft 2007 or later, you can go to File > Options > Proofing and deselect “Mark grammar errors as you type” and “Check grammar with spelling”. This will turn off any kind of grammar check.

If you don’t want to turn it off completely, choose Ignore rule. When mousing over a green-underlined word or phrase, right-click, choose “Grammar…” from the drop-down menu and click “Ignore rule”. This is especially handy for fragments.

Finally, you can Hide grammar errors in this document only. Again, under File > Options > Proofing, at the very bottom you’ll find this option, along with a choice to hide spelling errors.

The bottom line here is: sometimes grammar/spellcheck has no idea what it’s doing. It’s all about context, and only you can judge if that “improper grammar” sentence really is improper grammar—or if it’s just the way an eleven-year-old speaks.

You tell me: how much do you rely on spelling and grammar proofing?

Yahong

16 comments:

  1. The annoying thing is that when I "ignore rule," it only seems to last for that session. I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that I write on more than one computer, and therefore work with more than one user profile (my CPs love getting their MS with my "tracked changes" looking like it was done by three different people).

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    1. Oh, that problem occurs sometimes for me, as well. Unfortunately, I don't have any solution for that... except maybe stick to one computer? Haha. :D

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  2. It's true that Word doesn't get it all right. You've pointed out the major problems with it. I use it but ignore what is wrong because I do like what it does check.

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    1. Makes sense, Natalie! There are some times when it's right. :)

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  3. i definitely use it for spelling, because i'm a sloppu typer. But rarely for grammar. My personal style uses a lot of frgaments, so that's a lot of green to go through.
    And why, WHY, does spell check always want me to change its to it's?

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    1. A LOT of green, I know. :D Oh, and spellcheck is so odd when it comes to "its" and "it's". It doesn't seem to have any sense of sentence structure.

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  4. Grammar check is very prim and proper. It should lighten up. (I tend to ignore it.)

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    1. Michael, I couldn't agree more.

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  5. Sometimes I want to turn mine off, but sadly, I need it too much! ;)

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    1. Haha, Hilary, sometimes we all do! ;D

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  6. I pay attention to the spell check but the grammar check--not some much.

    On a related note, I tell some of my students to not use the spell check because sometimes there spelling is far enough off that the spellchecker thinks they are trying to spell a different word, and then if they choose a word from the spellcheck options things just get messier.....

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    1. Oooh, that sounds like it could get brutal. Smart of you, Paul.

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  7. I needed to read this post. The grammar check drives me crazy and I spend way too much time trying to rework sentences to appease it. Maybe it's just time to turn it off!

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    1. Yeah! Glad it helped, Johanna!

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  8. I use it mainly to pick up my typing errors, because if I'm going really fast, I tend to sneak some in that are hard to catch. The grammar check hates all my sentence fragments, but you're right, people talk in fragments all the time-it makes dialogue sound more realistic

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    1. Oh, definitely, when I type fast typos are everywhere. Glad you agree with me on the fragments! :)

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!