How Grammar Checkers Work

What is Grammar Checker?

A grammar checker or grammar checking software is a computer program or part of a computer program that tries to confirm the grammatical correctness of sentences in a document. In most cases, Grammar Checkers are part of a more massive computer program or websites with other more extensive features in more situations, word processors.

Grammar Checking technology searches the internet and analyzes the text of millions of internet pages to develop logical linguistically correct patterns. They are then utilized to understand the most statically proper arrangement for a written sentence.

It’s like this; When you write a sentence, the grammar checking engine compares your sentence, structure, purpose, and intent to billions of similar sentences from its database or the internet to find matches and suggest logically correct sentence structures.

The earliest writing style programs checked for wordy, trite, clichéd, or misused phrases in a text. This process was based on simple pattern matching. The heart of the program was a list of many hundreds or thousands of phrases that are considered poor writing by many experts. The list of questionable phrases included alternative wording for each phrase. The checking program would simply break text into sentences, check for any matches in the phrase dictionary, flag suspect phrases, and show an alternative. These programs could also perform some mechanical checks. For example, they would typically flag doubled words, doubled punctuation, some capitalization errors, and other simple mechanical mistakes.

Correct grammar checking engines are more complicated. While a computer programming language has a precise composition and grammar, this is not so for natural languages. One can write a somewhat complete formal syntax for a native language, but there are usually so many exceptions in real usage that formal grammar is of minimal help in writing a grammar checker. One of the most essential parts of a natural language grammar checker is a dictionary of all the words in the language, along with the role of speech of each word.

The fact that an original word may be used as anyone of several different parts of speech (such as “free” is used as an adjective, adverb, noun, or verb) dramatically increases the complexity of any grammar checker.

A Grammar checking tool will find every sentence in a document, research up each word in the dictionary, and then attempt to parse the sentence into a form that matches a grammar. Using various rules, the program can then detect multiple errors, such as agreement in tense, number, word order, and so on. It is also possible to identify some stylistic problems with the text. For example, some popular style guides such as The Elements of Style deprecate excessive use of the passive voice. Grammar checkers may attempt to identify passive sentences and suggest an active-voice alternative.

The software elements required for grammar checking are closely related to some of the development issues that need to be addressed for voice recognition software. In voice recognition, parsing can be used to help predict which word is most likely intended, based on the part of speech and position in the sentence. In grammar checking, the parsing is used to detect words that fail to follow accepted grammar usage.

Recently, research has focused on developing algorithms which can recognize grammar errors based on the context of the surrounding words.

Grammar checkers are considered as a type of foreign language writing aid which non-native speakers can use to proofread their writings as such programs endeavor to identify syntactical errors. However, as with other computerized writing aids such as spell checkers, popular grammar checkers are often criticized when they fail to spot the mistakes and incorrectly flag correct text as erroneous. The linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum argued in 2007 that they were generally so inaccurate as to do more harm than good: “for the most part, accepting the advice of a computer grammar checker on your prose will make it much worse, occasionally riotously disjointed.”

Why are Spell checkers better than Grammar Checkers?

Spelling is a fixed task with distinct right or wrong answers. Full sentences, on the other hand, contains a near-infinite amount of options, and whether something is grammatically correct or incorrect can mainly depend on elusive clues like context and inference.

That’s why individual English sentences are such a pain in the neck for automated grammar checkers.

On my Word processor, when I type this sentence into Word, the program dutifully underlines it in green and suggests: “John parked the car.” That would be fine if John had parked the car, but what if I meant that the car was physically parked near John?

A modest error, you might say, but look what happens when I change the sentence to “The car was parked by the curb.” Word underlines it and suggests: “The curb parked the car.”

That’s downright goofy, even for a computer.

“So much of English grammar involves inference and something called mutual contextual beliefs,” says Perelman. “When I make a statement, I believe that you know what I know about this. Machines aren’t that smart. You can train the machine for a specific situation, but when you talk about transactions in human language, there’s actually a huge number of inferences like that going on all the time.”

Perelman has beef with grammar checkers, which he claims simply do not work. Citing previous research, he found that grammar checkers only correctly identified errors in student papers 50 percent of the time. And even worse, they often flagged perfectly good prose as a mistake, known as a false positive.

In one exercise, Perelman plugged 5,000 words of a famous Noam Chomsky essay into the e-rater scoring engine by ETS, the company that produces (and grades) the GRE and TOEFL exams. The grammar checker found 62 errors — including 14 instances of a sentence starting with a coordinating conjunction (“and,” “but,” “our”) and nine missing commas — all but one of which Perelman classified as “perfectly grammatical prose.”

In Conclusion

For better or worse, I would advise you to use a grammar checking tool, it helps you notice some not-so-obvious, apparent errors. Whether it’s for your final year research paper or a casual blog post. Grammar checkers are your friends.