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Professor Finds Fault with MS Grammar Checker 607

Posted by timothy
from the sew-dew-eye dept.
ChuckOp writes " front-page article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer states: "The University of Washington associate professor has embarked on a one-man mission to persuade the Redmond company to improve the grammar-checking function in its popular word-processing program. Sandeep Krishnamurthy is also trying to raise public awareness of the issue." He includes some twisted prose that the grammar checker fails to find fault with, such as: "Marketing are bad for brand big and small. You Know What I am Saying?" and "Gates do good marketing job in Microsoft". This last comment is disputed by retired Microsoft researcher Karen Jensen, who developed part of the underlying technology; "Only by knowing that 'Gates' probably refers to Bill Gates -- and not to the plural of the movable portion of a fence -- would the program know to suggest using 'does' instead." The professor also has several twisted examples available."
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Professor Finds Fault with MS Grammar Checker

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  • Oh I See! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fembots (753724) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:35PM (#12069191) Homepage
    By visiting his site, I found out that he is the Associate Professor of Marketing and E-Commerce, and I was played right into his hand and visited his site! I bet he's laughing with his colleague from the Department of Statistics right now.
    • by dr_dank (472072) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:43PM (#12069314) Homepage Journal
      Yes they're laughing, but at the notion of hearing slashdot and grammar in the same sentence.
    • by dsginter (104154)
      By visiting his site,

      You must be new here. Welcome.
      • Re:Oh I See! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by houghi (78078) on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:43PM (#12070121)
        By visiting his site,

        You must be new here. Welcome.


        If nobody reads TFA, how come we /. those sites?
        • by Greyfox (87712)
          WE don't /. those sites. When a story is posted on /., gigantic machines in the /. basement go to work consuming every bit of bandwith to the site, thus preventing anyone from accidentally being tempted to read TFA before posting. This process stops (for the most part) once the next story's posted, as everyone will have posted in the previous story by then.

          Glad to have cleared that up.

        • Re:Oh I See! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by GQuon (643387) on Monday March 28, 2005 @08:26PM (#12071873) Journal
          If nobody reads TFA, how come we /. those sites?

          Oh, it's not that slashdot readers don't read the articles, it's just that the posters and readers rarely mix. If you want a comment to be noticed, you can't go wasting time actually reading articles, can you?
    • Re:Oh I See! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by khrtt (701691) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:57PM (#12069523)
      The reason there is a grammar checker in M$ Word is that M$ stuck it in there to have a leg up on competing wordprocessors (long time ago, when there actually were other WP. Now, any computational linguist will tell you, making a grammar checker actually work right is next to impossible.

      Noone can do it (yet), not microsoft, and not any serious scientific team. There is no such thing as a usable grammar checker. The reason is that in too many cases you need to understand context to be able to check grammar, and computers can't quite understand natural speech, except in scifi movies. You can make a grammar checker that will sort-of work, but all too often it would just fuck up. Just like the M$ one.

      The best you can with the grammar checker is send it the way of Clippy, i.e. turn it the fuck off.

      Now, this guy the article is about, he's a marketeer. Them marketeers invented the darn thing, and now one of them is complaning about it, and he hasn't got a clue in CompSci. He does have a clue in marketing, though. This time he's marketing his website.
  • by garcia (6573) * on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:35PM (#12069195) Homepage
    The University of Washington associate professor has embarked on a one-man mission to persuade the Redmond company to improve the grammar-checking function in its popular word-processing program. Krishnamurthy is also trying to raise public awareness of the issue.

    It's a tool that's not meant to take the place of actual proof-reading. The grammar checker included w/Word should only alert you to the possibility of some generic issues. If you are turning in, presenting, or distributing some paper you created I would suggest that you take the time and check over it yourself. After you check over it I suggest you have someone else check it over too.

    Microsoft calls that the fundamental issue. Responding to an inquiry about Krishnamurthy's examples, the Microsoft Office group said in a statement that the grammar checker "was created to be a guide and a tool, not a perfect proofreader." Microsoft also makes that point in Word's product documentation.

    Why should MSFT be held to some high standard for a tool that they include in their software? They should be forced to change it because some college student doesn't understand that "Marketing are good" isn't grammatically correct? Blame the student and their previous education not a tool that MSFT offers.

    "If you're a grad student turning in your term paper, and you think grammar check has completely checked your paper, I have news for you -- it really hasn't," he said.

    Perhaps require your students to hand in a draft first and you can tell them. In my experience very few professors cared about grammar, spelling, or even the basic content of the paper. How are these students supposed to know what they are doing is wrong if no one will take the time to teach it to them? MSFT is supposed to do that now?

    "If you're including a feature in a widely used program like Microsoft Word, it's got to pick up more things than it currently does," he said. "I agree, the English language is very complicated, but I think we should expect more from grammar check."

    Come on. I expect that out of my college education I should have at least earned the right to have a professor take the time out of their busy schedule to check over my paper for me. Most would glance over it and say it's fine. I only had *two* that actually spent the time to tear my papers down and show me what was wrong so that I wouldn't make those mistakes again. Does this professor want to do that or does he just want to berate MSFT for not doing it?

    But how did a marketing and e-commerce professor become a grammar-checking crusader?

    The professor is careful to point out that he's not out to bash Microsoft. But he says the company is spending too much energy on extraneous capabilities, while neglecting core features such as the grammar checker.

    Sounds like bashing to me especially considering he's a Marketing prof with a background in e-commerce. I wonder what his intentions really are for this "one man crusade". The grammar checker is not a core feature IMHO. I use it as a tool to give me some quick direction but I certainly don't consider it to be the end-all and I certainly wouldn't tell my students to use it if I was a professor.
    • > Why should MSFT be held to some high standard
      > for a tool that they include in their software?

      You're kidding, right?

      Maury
    • I have to disagree--I think that making the grammar checker more intelligent is a very important part of the program.

      I think that it is VERY annoying at this point, and I frequently turn it off because of that. Would I use an intelligent grammar check? Yes, by all means. It should also have an option for "story mode" or "dialogue", and ignore bad grammar within quotes so that I don't have hundreds of errors (alleged) popping up when I quote someone or when I choose to write about a character who uses bad grammar.
      • by ThosLives (686517) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:50PM (#12069414) Journal
        ...ignore bad grammar within quotes so that I don't have hundreds of errors (alleged) popping up...
        You should see what Word does to engineering specifications if you forget to turn off spelling and grammar checking...
      • I don't usually miss the joke around here, but I'm stumped. How is this funny?

        I would have rated it "Interesting" or "Insightful"...
      • by ajs (35943) <ajs&ajs,com> on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:16PM (#12069777) Homepage Journal
        "Would I use an intelligent grammar check? Yes, by all means. [... goes on to make suggestions ...]"

        What you're missing is the fact that this is one of the hardest problems ever tackled by computer science. Not only that, but even a moderate improvement over what MS does now would likely require an order of magnitude more code and run-time computation, making it inappropriate for most usage!

        MS Word does an OK job of spotting the most common errors, but if you're better at it than MS Word is, just shut the thing off. There, no problems.

        As far as writing something that you KNOW is incorrect... ok, so you get a green line under text that you already know is a problem, but you don't intend to change. No big deal. Why is this an imposition?
    • by cot (87677) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:43PM (#12069318)
      "I certainly wouldn't tell my students to use it if I was a professor."

      Why the hell not? It's far from perfect, but it still will catch bad grammar 9 times out of 10, so I fail to see how this makes it useless.

      Yes, you still have to proofread. However, proofreading is imperfect, especially when it's your own work and you don't have time to set it down and come back to it with a fresh perspective. At least the grammar checker will highlight most of your mistakes, and the false positives can be quickly evaluated and ignored.

      Yes, it could be significantly better, but that doesn't mean it's useless. You just have to know its limitations.
    • Come on. I expect that out of my college education I should have at least earned the right to have a professor take the time out of their busy schedule to check over my paper for me. Most would glance over it and say it's fine. I only had *two* that actually spent the time to tear my papers down and show me what was wrong so that I wouldn't make those mistakes again.

      I would think that a profs job would be to check content rather than grammer. I don't know much about US high school education, but I would e
    • Blame the student and their previous education not a tool that MSFT offers.

      What if the tool is being used in education - how can you blame a student if said student doesn't know better? My school has Word do a German grammar checker (yes, it's not English, but the principles are the same) and although it knows to change die to der, send verbs to the end with weil, and so on, it does not catch more complex phrases, such as relative clauses or a few questions. I can look up words fine in dictionaries, but
    • Perhaps require your students to hand in a draft first and you can tell them. In my experience very few professors cared about grammar, spelling, or even the basic content of the paper. How are these students supposed to know what they are doing is wrong if no one will take the time to teach it to them?

      Wow, you must have gone to Arizona State, too! Sun Devils in da house reprezent!
    • by rpdillon (715137) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:59PM (#12069550) Homepage
      I certainly wouldn't tell my students to use it if I was a professor.

      That should be "if I were a professor". It's the subjunctive mood. Betcha you wish you had a better grammar checker now!

    • Not only that (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:11PM (#12069718)
      Thus far, it's the best grammar checker I've seen. Far from perfect, certianly, but I've never had anyone show me one that was any better.

      You have to remember that grammar checking is much harder than spell checking. Basically, all a spell checker needs is a dictonary of words. If a given word isn't found in the dictonary, it is marked as incorrect. You may get a high rate of false positives if your dictonary sucks, but you'll basically never miss anything.

      Grammar is harder since now we are dealing with types of words and how they go together. You can't have a database of sentences and check against that, there just isn't the space to hold all that, never mind the ability to generate it. So you have to use hurestics of some kind to analyze the words and see if the match up based on your rules.

      Also what the rules are is somewhat hard to decide. Natural languages grow and change. What was fine 50 years ago in English isn't necessiarly fine today. Plus there are different standards to which one might be held. There are things that are allowable in normal conversational speech that aren't in a scholarly paper.

      Basically, if he thinks he can make or can point out a better grammar checker, be my guest, but at this point it just sounds like so much whining. He wants perfection in an imperfect field.
    • Come on. I expect that out of my college education I should have at least earned the right to have a professor take the time out of their busy schedule to check over my paper for me. Most would glance over it and say it's fine. I only had *two* that actually spent the time to tear my papers down and show me what was wrong so that I wouldn't make those mistakes again. Does this professor want to do that or does he just want to berate MSFT for not doing it?

      A large number of English instructors at American colleges and universities today are either grad. students or part-timers, most of them earning $14,000 - $20,000 per year. Many of these people have 60 to 100 students per semester. Example: I started out as a grad. student teaching assistant. In addition to a full-time teaching load, I had 50 students to teach. I had to balance my own assignments with planning assignments, leading classes, and grading ~200 essays per semester. Later on, as an adjunct (part-time instructor) at a community college in North Carolina, I got paid $24 per credit hour per week. In other words, for teaching a standard 3-credit course, I was paid $72 per week - and I was only paid for the time I spent in class. No compensation for time spent in my office, grading and working with students outside of class, formulating assignments, etc. When my colleagues and I did the math for all the time we spent on these activities, we found we were making about $7.75 an hour. The majority of American students are being taught English by instructors like these.

      Different people react to this shameful situation in academia different ways. For me, when I had 400 pages of writing to grade in a week, the only solution was to go over a paper one time, carefully, and to refer the student to a writing tutor at other times. It's not a question of wanting to help, or being too lazy to help. It's a question of the ability to do so. In a perfect world, tuition and fees paid to a university would "earn you the right" to have individual assistance with each writing assignment. Blame the academic world's focus on profit and part-time labor for the fact that isn't so.

  • That his professor found a hole in Microsoft's algorithm and is exploiting it.

    News at 11!
  • by Neil Blender (555885) <neilblender@gmail.com> on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:36PM (#12069207)
    That's unpossible!
  • Not so (Score:5, Funny)

    by spellraiser (764337) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:37PM (#12069225) Journal
    I double-checked this post using Word's grammar checker. I dare you find fault with it!
  • Well of course! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Barking Dog (599515) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:37PM (#12069228) Homepage
    Any automated tool that parses something as complicated and subject to variation as English grammar is going to have issues. A serious writer isn't going to rely on the MS Word grammar checker to be their sole indicator if something is written poorly. I think of it more as a tool to catch the blitheringly obvious, not the subtle details. But then again, his examples do seem pretty blitheringly obvious...
  • Grammar checking? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by badmammajamma (171260) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:37PM (#12069231)
    You mean people don't turn that shit off immediately after installing Office?
    • I find it very useful when writing in other (and, for me, non-native) languages, like French; it certainly doesn't give me the grammar of a Parisienne, but it can fix small problems - putting verbs in the right tense, making adjectives/adverbs, agree with the rest of the sentence...
  • This is stupid. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Datamonstar (845886) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:37PM (#12069232)
    I mean come on. I'm not even a MS fan and I agree that their product could get better, but if you're going to write like a 4 year old... And it would be different if the product's purpose was souly to check grammar. It's NOT. There's a point at which the user has to step in and use some sense and actually EDIT their work themselves.
  • It's worse than goatse.
  • by Manip (656104) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:38PM (#12069242)
    I wish they would improve the spellchecker too. I myself am dyslexic and often have to use google to correct my spelling when the Office spellchecker lets me down.
  • Typical M$ Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msaulters (130992) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:39PM (#12069253) Homepage
    He includes some twisted prose that the grammar checker fails to find fault with, such as: "Marketing are bad for brand big and small. You Know What I am Saying?" and "Gates do good marketing job in Microsoft". This last comment is disputed by retired Microsoft researcher Karen Jensen, who developed part of the underlying technology; "Only by knowing that 'Gates' probably refers to Bill Gates -- and not to the plural of the movable portion of a fence -- would the program know to suggest using 'does' instead."


    Ms Jensen doesn't note that the example is STILL incorrect even if one doesn't assume Gates is a proper noun. Grammatically, it should be, "Gates do good marketing jobs in Microsoft." Plural JOBS.

    Of course, the chances of seeing a Jobs in Microsoft these days are probably nil.
    • "Gates do good marketing work in Microsoft." would be a similar statement with correct grammar. I suppose the system should know that "job" only appears as a noun along with an "a" or a possessive. (Or does it? I can't think of a counterexample.)

      In any case, this whole thing is stupid. Writing a perfect English grammar checker would be a Herculean task, Microsoft doesn't claim the Office spell checker is remotely perfect and I'v never encountered anyone who thought it was invaluable. And the Slashmob may wa

    • Gates does marketing jobs at microsoft well?
  • M$ replied, "We fail English? That's unpossible."

    Apologies to the young Mr. Wiggums.

  • The article title is hardly newsworthy. Maybe "Two-Year-Old Finds Fault With..."
  • by tinrobot (314936) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:40PM (#12069267)
    If someone has to rely on a grammar checker in order to write a decent sentence, then something is seriously wrong.

  • by TildeMan (472701) <gsivek AT mit DOT edu> on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:40PM (#12069283) Homepage
    I agree that there are many shortcomings in Microsoft's grammar checker. However, to what extent should we bother trying to improve it? English is an extraordinarily complex language and it should be easy to construct "twisted" examples which any grammar checker would miss; any standard intro AI course will warn of the dangers of overfitting data anyway. On the other end of the spectrum, I'm sure it's easy to construct examples which the grammar checker will never allow but which are often perfectly acceptable under certain circumstances. English grammar simply isn't as black and white as, say, C syntax, no matter what we geeks would like. :-)
  • by hankwang (413283) * on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:41PM (#12069292) Homepage
    It goes a bit far to require a software company to design software that can do a full grammatical analysis of phrases. That is more something for a long-term academic research project. Take for example articles. If you've ever cooperated with someone with a background in Asiatic or Slavic languages, you start to realize how hard that is. The ground rule is: always put "a" or "the" in front of a singular noun. Article placement (note: without article) is hard. The article placement, or the lack thereof, in the previous sentence, was correct. Why only "the" in the second phrase? How would you let a wordprocessor feel the difference? Most of the grammatical errors in the shown examples are about those articles.

    I'd rather have a program that points out the typical mistakes that occur when you cut and paste around, i.e. phrases without a verb, or with too many verbs, than one that is giving false alarms all the time. A grammar checker cannot fix a bad writer. Neither a spell checker, for that matter. (Do you write "advise" or "advice"?)

    Personally, I don't use grammar checkers (not available for Emacs AFAIK anyway), and a spell checker only if I doubt about a particular word. There are way too many words in the kind of things that I write that make the spell checker freak out.

    BTW, I probably made a mistake or two in this posting. My excuse is that I ain't no native speaker. :)

    • "There are way too many words in the kind of things that I write that make the spell checker freak out. "

      You're a big fan of gibberish, eh?

      I find that even in technical writing it's worth going through and adding the jargon I need to the dictionary. After the first few papers, it's pretty aware of the words I need and I've caught more than a few typos I would have missed otherwise.
  • openoffice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rkv (852317)
    heh my openoffice.org caught the mistakes and speeling errors :P
  • by PxM (855264) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:42PM (#12069311)
    If the MLA would come up with a formal specification of the English language that was a recursively enumerable language [wikipedia.org] it wouldn't be so fucking hard to parse the language. They could at least formalize things like order-of-operations regarding clauses and enumerated lists and give a better set of punctuation to work with. They should choose whether they want the language to be pure communications medium with a formal syntax or if they want it to be a completely flexible means of artistic expression full of nuances and hints that can only be understood by a sentient being who has studied the language in-depth for many years.


    --
    Want a free iPod? [freeipods.com]
    Or try a free Nintendo DS, GC, PS2, Xbox. [freegamingsystems.com] (you only need 4 referrals)
    Wired article as proof [wired.com]
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:43PM (#12069312)
    I see this all the time in errors in newspapers and magazines. Its obvious that someone ran a checker and just clicked "OK" at whatever was suggested. Spelling and grammar checkers have taken the place of actual knowledge of the language.

    I suspect that, in the long run, this will change usage so that Microsoft English becomes considered acceptable. But the trend does frighten me, given the recent issue with open standards in Massachusetts [slashdot.org]. In a dystopian future, open source eye-balls will only be allowed to read, not write, the language.
  • by dayid (802168) * <slashdot@dayid.org> on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:43PM (#12069326) Homepage
    This isn't something new. People have known for years that the grammar checker is less than perfect. Now, if this were a developer saying, "Well, it would be better if you did..." I would have a lot more respect for the article. I can point out problems with lots of things left and right, and without giving a good, reasonable solution, simply pointing them out is what we generally call complaining.

    I'm far from a fan of Microsoft, but since I work for a literacy program funded by the U.S. Government, I am adequately shocked that people use grammar check for anything more than catching where they mistyped "th estory" instead of "the story" and similar such mistakes. Also being a college student, I find myself re-reading my papers quite often, and generally fixing a few mistakes in my original text. Few, if any, of these would have been found by the grammar checker.

    Then again, I guess you could also say I have an agenda to UN-automate the process of checking spelling and grammar, as it seems to me it's growing to be one of those automated features that doesn't just serve in time-saving, but also extends to the dumbing of America. Not just the, "I don't care" kind of dumb, but also the "I don't have any need to care" kind.

    Please, get over it.
  • by JJ (29711)
    What wrong on no grammer checkings?
  • by AnonymousJackass (849899) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:44PM (#12069343)
    If you're a grad student turning in your term paper, and you think grammar check has completely checked your paper, I have news for you -- it really hasn't,
    If you're a grad student relying on Word's grammar check for your term paper, you get everything you deserve! The grammar/spell check on Word, or any other word processing tool for that matter, is there to be used as assistance but should not be used as the definitive answer for anything remotely important!

    By all means use a spell checker but if you've spend days/weeks/months writing a paper, the least you can do is spend a few hours reading it for grammatical errors!
  • by rayde (738949)
    This is just rediculous! The MS grammer checker has been working flawlessly as part of Slashcode for years!

    </sarcasm>
  • by Skye16 (685048) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:50PM (#12069407)
    But I say "good". I'm glad the grammar checker in Word is so fubar. It shouldn't be the catch-all for any paper you write. If it points something out that is incorrect and you fix it - okay! If it points out something correct and you tell it to ignore it because you do have a decent grasp on the English language, then okay. And if you just tell it to "Fix All", then you deserve to get the "wtF?!" at the top of your paper. Sure, English can be a bit of a pain, but you should never completely rely on someone else's grammar checker to take the place of learning the language in the first place.
  • A professor, eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jerf (17166) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:51PM (#12069430) Journal
    A professor, eh? Let's check that website:
    SANDEEP KRISHNAMURTHY, Associate Professor of Marketing and E-Commerce, University of Washington, Bothell
    Oh.

    So, what we have here is somebody just saying, in essense, "Gee, Microsoft, why isn't your software at human-level AI? I mean, how hard can that be?" and is so utterly incompetent at assessing how hard grammar checking is that they are utterly unaware of how incompetent they are. (Hmmm, that sounds familiar [phule.net], though this isn't quite the same.)

    I invite Associate Professor of Marketing and E-Commerce Sandeep Krishnamurthy to try his hand at the AI problems he is upset that Microsoft hasn't waved a magic wand and fixed, though I feel obligated to warn him that as an associate professor of marketing, he's likely to be in for a world of intellectual hurt unless he's got some other source of knowledge and skill squirreled away somewhere, like a PhD in Computer Science he is for some reason forgetting to mention.... Perhaps then he would have some understanding of why even the mighty Microsoft has not yet produced the Perfect Grammar Checker....

    On that note, check in with actual Linguists on the feasibility of the idea of a Perfect Grammar, too. You probably have a lot to learn there, too.
  • Don't I know it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jointm1k (591234)

    The Dutch version of the Microsoft spelling checker changes my name, "Mikael", to "Eikel". This means acorn, in Dutch. "Eikel" also refers to the sensitive part of the male sex. A third meaning is that of "jerk". Needless to say I have never used the Microsoft spelling checker ever since. >:(

  • by Kainaw (676073) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:54PM (#12069479) Homepage Journal
    Only by knowing that 'Gates' probably refers to Bill Gates -- and not to the plural of the movable portion of a fence --

    Is Microsoft going to trademark 'Gates' now as they did with 'Windows' so you'll have to pay him a license fee every time you talk about your 'moveable portion of a fence'?
  • GRAAAH!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by flyingsquid (813711) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:56PM (#12069505)
    Hulk work hard on Grammar Checker for Microsoft! Program many long hours. Very hard to type with huge green hands and puny little keys! Many times get angry and smash keyboard. Many keyboards broken. Hulk also get help with grammar from Yoda. Yoda very wise. Maybe not best work in world, but Hulk take pride in work. Why puny University of Washington professor criticize hard work of Hulk? Criticism hurt Hulk's feelings. Hulk angry! HULK SMASH!
  • Is there a decent F/OSS grammar checker? Seems like an important project. I guess a probabilistic approach which could be trained for various different languages would work best.

  • Hmm. I never use proper names in my sentences. Nor am I clever enough to understand that "gates" (the swinging type that keep people out of your yard) "do marketing."

    What do people expect when they expect so little from Microsoft?
  • I don't mind it missing bloopers so much as it underlining perfectly good sentences. I know what the passive voice is and I'll use it when I want to, dammit!
  • Rules of Grammar (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jamesl (106902) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:59PM (#12069558)
    Instead of moaning, Mr. Krishnamurthy should write a brief and complete Rules of English Grammar for his friends across town. For reference, he can use Elements of English Grammar: Rules Explained Simply (310 pages) or Rules, Patterns and Words : Grammar and Lexis in English Language Teaching (Cambridge Language Teaching Library) (246 pages).

    English grammar is complex and often twisted in its logic. Its amazing that the MS Word grammar checker works so well.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Monday March 28, 2005 @04:59PM (#12069563) Homepage Journal
    that he is speaking not to harm Ceasar, but to make Ceasar a better person:

    From his Most common mistakes by students [washington.edu]:

    "10. Not running Microsoft Word's spelling and grammar check."

    From this we gather that he does want people to use the spelinng and gramer czechs ...

    and

    "11. Assuming that Microsoft Word's spelling and grammar check will solve all writing problems."

    Which leads us to believe that he has a purpose to this critique of MSFT Word grammar checking.
  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:00PM (#12069567) Homepage
    It should only be used by people who understand grammar. It's the same with spell checkers. You have to know the difference between there, they're, and their before you can use one.
  • I use in spellcheckers, Microsoft's, Corel's or others', is the spellcheck. I do this prior to an actual proofreading to catch typos, and afterwards as well, to make sure that no word was automagically changed by the software.

    You see, Word and Wordperfect have a tendency to forget that I turn their auto-correct and auto-replace functions off, which can introduce errors.
  • When someone can bring up a full rap song of lyrics with only one green underline, you know there's something wrong with the grammar checker!

    I dont know anyone who relys on it, but it should be fixed for the occasional n00b.
  • by shanen (462549) on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:10PM (#12069707) Homepage Journal
    Or should that be "of the World"?

    Trying to think of something profound to say, but the grammar checker is pretty short of profound. I use Word for hours most days, and I certainly feel like the grammar checker is of limited utility. The simple spelling checking part of it delivers far and away the most bang for the buck. The grammar checker only contributes slightly, and that's usually by recognizing ambiguities. It doesn't help fix them, but if I can simplify the grammar to the point where the grammar checker stops complaining, then the passage is often rendered more clearly.

    I think doing more would require a level of semantic understanding which is still far, far above the capabilities of our PCs, even given their gigahertz frequencies. Trying to substitute for real intelligence is difficult. The only thing I can imagine might be a very large database of examples of good and bad grammar examples, accessed via the Internet. The problem of deciding good and bad would still remain. Perhaps a Wikipedia-style approach with volunteer evaluators?

  • by saskboy (600063) on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:19PM (#12069819) Homepage Journal
    I see you is trying to write a letter, would you like some helps?
  • by jolyonr (560227) on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:24PM (#12069878) Homepage
    As the article on The Register [theregister.co.uk] pointed out, the MS Grammar Checker is offensive to lesbians, espeically those studying Geology:

    The innocent phrase "The dykes which cut the granite are 2m wide" was converted, by MS Word, to "The dykes who cut the granite are 2m wide".

    Jolyon
  • ESL - ARG (Score:3, Interesting)

    by backlonthethird (470424) on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:36PM (#12070037)
    The biggest problem with the grammar check in my experience is that people just plain trust it too much. I used to work in a writing center in a large private college. We served a lot of English as a Second Langauge students. Smart people, for the most part. They would come in with papers with the most convoluted and aggravating grammar I'd ever seen. When I ask about why they chose to write in that way, about half said that they had originally wrote it like X (where X is actually human-readable), but the grammar checker told them it was wrong so they just accepted it since it obviously knew English better than they did.

    It did make for some nice teaching opportunities when I got to tell them they were smarter than they thought, but it's frustrating to think that people accept that "The computer must be right" even with something as complex and human as grammar.
  • by DaoudaW (533025) on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:39PM (#12070070)
    Seriously, who uses the grammar checker? I've usually been more annoyed by the false-positives. I'm kind of surprised that there are problems with false negatives as well. The first thing I do when I have to use a M$ product is turn off Clippy, spelling and grammar. Those things interrupt my train of thought quicker than anything else.

    But I'm seriously curious, do most people try to use the grammar checker?
  • by derek_farn (689539) <derek&knosof,co,uk> on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:42PM (#12070107) Homepage
    There are two open source grammar checkers available (Language tool [sourceforge.net] and Queequeg [sourceforge.net] ). Both have strengths and weaknesses and could do with a lot more work to improve on the number strengths they have. Unfortunately people with the necessary expertise rarely have the time needed to get involved on these kinds of projects. If anybody is interested and has some expertise then send me some email. Perhaps we produce something better.
  • by IdJit (78604) on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:48PM (#12070210)
    You know why no one's complained about the apparent lack of a grammar checker for Linux?

    No one uses it! Even when using MS Word, I look at the suggested grammar corrections and say, "Oh, that's nice. Whatever." Then, I go on writing and fix errors myself.

    In other words, in order to operate a mule, you must first be smarter than the mule.
  • Deja Vue (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 28, 2005 @05:50PM (#12070233)
    I like it best when the Word spelling/grammar checker gets in a loop.

    Me: Type a word.
    MS Word: Should be hyphenated.
    Me: Change word.
    MS Word: Shouldn't be hyphenated.
    Me: Change word back.
    MS Word: Should be hyphenated.
    Me: *Arrrgh!!!*
  • by mi (197448) on Monday March 28, 2005 @06:09PM (#12070454) Homepage
    until an open-source word-processor offers a better grammar checker than Microsoft's...

    Heck, until any other word-processor does it.

  • by gkwok (773963) on Monday March 28, 2005 @06:16PM (#12070511) Homepage
    I typed in the following text to Microsoft Word 2003:
    In A.D. 2101 war was beginning.
    What happen?
    Somebody set up us the bomb.
    We get signal.
    What!
    Main screen turn on.
    It's you!!
    How are you gentlemen!!
    All your base are belong to us.
    You are on the way to destruction.
    What you say!!
    You have no chance to survive make your time.
    Ha Ha Ha
    Captain!!
    Take off every 'Zig'!!
    You know what you doing.
    Move 'Zig'.
    For great justice.

    The only things it flagged were "all your base are" (suggested "base is" or "bases are") and "for great justice" (sentence fragment).

    Grammatical and sociological implications are left as an exercise to the reader.

  • It's about time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pingsmoth (249222) on Monday March 28, 2005 @06:20PM (#12070565) Homepage
    When I was doing my student teaching, every time we were in the computer lab I had to go around showing my students how to turn off the grammar checker. Most of my students simply got frustrated with that squiggly green line and stopped writing altogether when it showed up. Sometimes it found actual grammatical errors, but most of the time it just found ways to piss off my students for no good reason.

    I think the concept is a good one, but it sorely needs to be updated.
  • by drew (2081) on Monday March 28, 2005 @06:26PM (#12070624) Homepage
    "Gates do good marketing job in Microsoft". This last comment is disputed by retired Microsoft researcher Karen Jensen, who developed part of the underlying technology; "Only by knowing that 'Gates' probably refers to Bill Gates -- and not to the plural of the movable portion of a fence -- would the program know to suggest using 'does' instead."

    Even if the program assumes that "gates" is a plural common noun, and not a singular proper noun, shouldn't a remotely decent grammar checker still find fault with this sentence (beyond it's nonsensical nature)? Along with accidentally repeated double words, mixing singular and plural nouns/verbs is one lf the only things that the grammar check seems to actually be good for.

    It seems like a halfway decent grammar checker in this case would at least recommend "Gates do good marketing jobs in Microsoft"
  • Idiot professor... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jonadab (583620) on Monday March 28, 2005 @06:38PM (#12070766) Homepage Journal
    This guy needs to look up "AI Complete". Natural language parsing is not just a common example, it is *the* canonical example, the one that is NEVER left out of ANY serious discussion of the issue. Of *course* their grammar checker is worthless; *every* computer grammar checker is worthless (unless it's checking the grammar for a computer language, as opposed to a human language).
  • by creative_Righter (834378) on Monday March 28, 2005 @07:35PM (#12071424)

    I'm a senior in the English Department at the University of Washington. I can tell you for a fact grammar has gone by the wayside. Last quarter, in my advanced expository writing class my teacher gave a room full of English majors a grammar quiz. Five out of twenty people understood when to use "whom". Two people could use "to lay" and "to lie" and their respective participles correctly. One person (me) found all the errors in the paragraph at the end of the test. This is not a class filled with freshman--this is an upper-level English class at a major University.

    Part of the blame rests on the complexity involved with parsing language. That particular class relied heavily on peer review simply because editing is hard, time consuming work, even if you know all the rules. An instructor reading twenty rough drafts of a ten page paper cannot reply meaningfully to every one in a couple of hours. Content and structure always outweigh grammar and spelling when a teacher had limited time to really look at a student's work.

    The other part of the blame arises from hubris associated with grammar. If you tell someone that they need to work on their grammar, they will probably think that you're insinuation that they return to grade school. I think studying grammar should not be relegated the ESL students and middle-schoolers. If you can tell me what the subjunctive mood is without looking it up or use a dash, colon and semicolon without fear then more power to you. If you cannot, perhaps MS Word's grammar checker isn't the only thing that needs a rehaul.

    Insightful, lucid, and grammatically-correct writing is a by-product of hard, relentless work that cannot (yet) be replicated.

All this wheeling and dealing around, why, it isn't for money, it's for fun. Money's just the way we keep score. -- Henry Tyroon

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