What I Think of Microsoft Word's Grammar Checker

(this was also originally a post on the Compuserve Forum)

I did a spelling and grammar check up to Chapter 9 of The Face of A Lion, and then got bored by Word’s ridiculousness. Here’s what I came up with:

"Perhaps in that one place, it need not come to pass. The right way might be chosen, the seed planted in good soil. But it would require help, a trip forward, another trip backward. Yet it could be done... He would have to start at the neap of the tide."
See, here it’s obvious why I’ve chosen the passive – because I don’t want to name names... Especially in the second example: if I say "he could do it", it sounds stupid and implies that Kedi is acting on his own, which is certainly not the case.

"She suggested he walk to the ice cream parlour at the end of the main road, pointing with her shears, and told him that the original neighbourhood in her childhood had been made up of roughly fifty houses."
Aye well, this one is kind of a sticking point. Any changes I come up with seem to make the sentence even longer or repeat the word “had” (in her childhood the original neighbourhood had had fifty houses; there had been fifty houses when they were first built...) and I’d rather stick with the passive, in that case.

"He had probably been asked to keep an eye on the houses whose owners had not yet arrived, and Austin must look suspicious, loitering in the garden of a closed-up house."
Again, Austin doesn’t know who asked the watchman to keep an eye on the houses, some faceless group of adults. Hence, passive.

"'One of the original seven wonders of the world, it is now nearly hidden under a marsh...'"
This is a quote from the guidebook. Guidebooks are generally passive, and they certainly don’t say things like "the marsh has nearly swallowed up the site."

"He had to remind himself to look left not right, instead of the way he was used to back home."
"The sea does not have the strong tides of the ocean you are used to.”
"Only the window’s thick-slatted wooden shutters were closed, so that the air came in but the room was hidden from the road behind."
The words in bold are exactly those words which Word underlines and tells me are passive. Hello??? "used to" not "used"! This isn’t passive, it’s past tense!

"The horn blast vibrated all around him as he stepped back and tightened himself up, drawing in his arms, trying to stay as stiff as possible, and not be swept away."
I changed "be" to "get" and Word suggested that I change it to "be", upon which it promptly underlined it again and suggested that I change "be"! Grrr...

The following are two unrelated comments [to the exercise on passive structures]:
"He lay under the thin cotton blanket in the cool dark of his room, eyes closed, fuming. What if the cat came now, seeking the shade of the verandah to snooze in?"
Word told me this was a "non-standard question" :-)

"But that is neither here nor there."
Word suggested I change this to "But that is unimportant." How dare they make suggestions on word choice? Sure, many people rely on them for essays and so on, but, really, I hardly think a computer programme is the right medium through which to filter your editorial decisions, regardless of subject matter...

Based on all of these, I’ve now learned that, apparently, I don’t use quite as many passive structures as I thought I did. The ones I have used, I’ll keep :-)

Comments

AYDIN ÖRSTAN said…
I tested 2 of your sentences in Word 2007 (The horn blast vibrated all around him ..... and But that is neither here nor there), but only got the "spelling and grammar check is complete" message.

What version are you using?
Deniz Bevan said…
Perhaps that's it - I was using the one at work: Word 2003. At home we just got Microsoft Office 2007!

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