10 Places to Ignore Your Grammar and Spelling Checker

Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training

Because grammar and spelling checkers are software programs, they can’t read your mind or know your intentions. They also frequently cannot distinguish between correct and incorrect sentence structures and the use of words that sometimes confuse us humans. Below are 10 places in which your software may be suggesting errors rather than correcting them.

1. When you use your reader’s name in a sentence. Grammar and spelling checkers may not recognize whether you are talking to or about the person. These sentences are correct, but my grammar and spelling checker flagged them anyway.
Eric, thanks for writing this article. [The comma after Eric’s name is correct because we are addressing him directly.]
Dave, in the employee version, add an example here. [My checker suggested changing add to adds–wrong!]
Lynn, may we have permission to print your material? [It suggested that I capitalize may as a month, which is incorrect, of course!]
2. When you begin a sentence with an introductory clause. Your grammar and spelling checker does not recognize where you intend the clause to end. In the first indented sentence below, for example, it may suggest a comma after write, Mark, or program. Just remember to use a comma before the main part of the sentence, as the sentences below do. They are punctuated correctly, although my grammar and spelling checker suggested additional commas.
When you write to Mark about the program in Kansas City, be sure he understands that it is in Missouri.
         If they do give you a copy of the receipt, keep it for your records.

If you want to help employees improve their writing, use this guide.

3. When your software suggests changing a verb from singular to plural or vice versa (by adding s, removing s, or changing from is to are, for example). Your grammar and spelling checker may frequently suggest new errors in subject-verb agreement. The three sentences below are correct, but my grammar and spelling checker suggested changing them.
Any files beginning with 000 need to be moved to the C drive. [Need is correct–not needs.]
Thank you for letting us know about your shopping experience. [Know is correct–not knows!]

The average number of words per sentence is 15 to 20. [The verb is is correct; are would be wrong.]

4. When you use a plural noun. Your grammar and spelling checker “worries” that you might have intended to use a possessive form. If you want a plural, don’t be scared into changing your word. These sentences are correct:
I have taught thousands of professionals at all organizational levels. [Not professional’s and not professionals’!]
Be sure to give last names because there may be several Annes and Melanies in the group. [No apostrophes needed.]
5. When you correctly use a possessive form. Your grammar and spelling checker may flag a correct possessive form, thinking you intended a contraction or a different possessive form. But don’t change sentences like these:
We need to know Mr. Martin’s preferred dinnertime. [Not Martin has!]
The car is hers and her mother’s. [Mother’s is correct as is.]
It’s better to do it this way. [This one is correct as a contraction, but my grammar and spelling checker wrongly suggested its.]
6. When you use numbers less than 10. Your grammar and spelling checker is probably programmed to change numbers less than 10 to words, except in special situations. These sentences are correct, but my grammar and spelling checker flagged them:
The meeting takes place from 3 to 5 p.m.
He gave the performance a rating of 4.
See below for the details of what will happen on the 7th. [Not seventh.]
7. When you use quotation marks. Some grammar and spelling checkers suggest inserting commas before and after every phrase in quotation marks. But those commas are often not necessary and therefore incorrect. These sentences are correct as is:
What does “insist” mean in this context?
Is the article entitled “Personal Email in the Office”?
The words “and so on” should be deleted.
8. When you write a sentence that is not in traditional subject-verb form. When your sentence is not in the standard word order, your checker may flag it as a fragment or a question. These sentences are correct, but my grammar and spelling checker flagged them:
Coach employees to write better. [It is not a fragment.]
Below is an example taken from a performance appraisal. [It is not a question.]
(See Solution 8.) [This is a sentence despite the parentheses–not a fragment.]
9. When you include a series of items. I don’t know why grammar and spelling checkers have difficulty with series, but they often flag them unnecessarily. These sentences are correct and would be wrong with the suggested “corrections”:
Reports, emails, and procedures that include jargon are often forwarded to readers who do not understand them. [The comma after reports is correct. Do not omit it!]

We will provide a continental breakfast, an LCD projector (with cables), an easel with a flip chart pad, markers, name tents, and a class roster. [Do not insert an and before “an easel.”]


10. When you use bullet points. Your grammar and spelling checker is likely to flag bullets as fragments, even though their structure is fine for bullet points. For example, the bullet points below may be fragments, but they are correct:
Be sure your document is:
   –Formatted in a consistent, clear layout.
   –Easy to skim by fast-moving readers.
   –Free of distracting errors.
Of course, ignore any nonsensical suggestions from your grammar and spelling checker. Today mine suggested changing “airbill” to “hairball” and “skimmable” to “swimmable,” but I stood firm! I knew what I wanted.

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