Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Grammarly redux

After my previous post on the Grammarly grammar and plagiarism checker, in which I noted that the test on the web page reported errors but was rather vague about saying what they were, someone from Grammarly contacted me and urged me to give it a more thorough trial. So I did.

I ran my original paragraph through it, and then made all the changes that Grammarly suggested.

Here is the original version:

In Western Europe and in North America, however, there were witch hunts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which thousands of people accused of witchcraft were executed after a legal trial. In most societies, and at various times, the most favoured method of killing witches was to burn them to death. The fear of witchcraft and sorcery seems to be endemic to human society, though the killing of suspected witches seems to be epidemic rather than endemic. Terms like “endemic” and “epidemic” are normally used of physical diseases spread by germs. I use the metaphor deliberately, because I believe that witchcraft and witch hunts can be seen in theological terms as aspects of a spiritual sickness, as I hope to show in this article.

And here is the modified version, following Grammarly’s suggestions:

In Western Europe and North America, however, there were witch hunts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which they executed thousands of people accused of witchcraft after a legal trial. In most societies, and at various times, the most flavoured method of killing witches was to burn them to death. The fear of witchcraft and sorcery seems to be endemic to human society, though the killing of suspected witches seems to be epidemic rather than endemic. You normally use terms like “endemic” and “epidemic” when you speak about physical diseases spread by germs. I use the metaphor deliberately because I believe that witchcraft and witch hunts can be seen in theological terms as aspects of a spiritual sickness, as I hope to show in this article.

I then ran the modified version through Grammarly again, and it scored 75% rather than 55%.

I’ll say what I thought of the recommended changes, but before you read that, I’d be interested in knowing which version of the text you prefer, so please use the poll if you have strong opinions about it, and expand on it in the comments section below.

The first time round, Grammarly suggested that I substitute “flavoured” or “savoured” for “favoured”. After I had done that, it reversed its advice, and suggested (correctly, in my opinion) that I should change it back.

In the first line it suggested that I leave out the second “in” in “In Europe and in North America”, so I did. I don’t think it makes a great deal of difference, but my reason for including the second “in” was that I was treating “Europe” and “North America” as two different places rather than as a single entity.

Grammarly also suggested that I leave out the comma after “deliberately”: instead of “I use the metaphor deliberately, because I believe” Grammarly recommended “I use the metaphor deliberately because I believe”. That seems to me to change the meaning slightly, though I’m not sure how.

The second time around Grammarly found another superfluous comma, which it had missed the first time. That was the comma after “spiritual sickness” in the last sentence.

Grammarly, like MS Word, didn’t like the passive voice, so I changed “thousands of people accused of witchcraft were executed” to “they executed thousands of people accused of witchcraft”. Grammarly seemed to approve of that, but I have my doubts. It looks more like the kind of thing a Grade 5 schoolboy would write in an essay.

I likewise changed ‘Terms like “endemic” and “epidemic” are normally used of physical diseases spread by germs’ to ‘You normally use terms like “endemic” and “epidemic” when you speak about physical diseases spread by germs’.

Grammarly seemed to think that that was an improvement. Again, I’m not so sure.

I was also interested to see the result of Grammarly’s plagiarism detector, and it had indeed found a blog that had nicked my article without permission, here, though it did cite the source.

I don’t think I’ll be using Grammarly much myself, but I would recommend it without hesitation to the Department of Nursing Science at the University of South Africa, where the use of the passive voice was strongly recommended they strongly recommended the use of the passive voice, and urged students to avoid the use of the active voice altogether.

I would also recommend it to people for whom English is a second language, but with a caution — the recommendations are sometimes misleading, as in the “flavoured/favoured” substitution, though I thought the “savoured” alternative had distinct possibilities in the context.

The plagiarism detector might be useful to academics who have to mark lots of undergraduate essays.

And my recommendation to Grammarly is: please make your taster sample a little more informative.

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3 thoughts on “Grammarly redux

  1. Lindsay Walker on said:

    Grammarly seems unable to appreciate linguistic subtlety, preferring to dumb-down instead.

  2. Andrew on said:

    The change to “they executed thousands of people” is just plain wrong, IMHO, as there is nothing to say who “they” are.

  3. Never trust a techie to spell properly.

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