7 grammar checker apps analyzed

If you are considering using a grammar checking app but are not sure which one would work well for you or your student, you are in luck.  The blog, Daily Writing Tips, has done the analyzing for you.

To test the various apps, Daily Writing Tips submitted a sentence written with four errors:  a missing comma, a misspelled word, a verb problem and a capitalization error.

The apps reviewed, and the number of errors found by each one, include:

  • Google Docs (2)
  • Microsoft Word (4)
  • Grammarly (4)
  • ProWritingAid (4)
  • Hemingway Editor (1)
  • After the Deadline (2)
  • Ginger (3)

The review of the apps recommends certain apps for certain kinds of writing.  If you are a teacher or are looking for an app for a student, Grammarly has the added benefit of explaining in detail why errors are wrong.

For detailed information, go to www.dailywritingtips.com.


Do you read like an editor?

I do, and I wish sometimes I could turn off my editing instinct.

For instance, last week I  reread Pride and Prejudice.  Everything was fine until I reached chapter 10.  There, the heroine, Elizabeth, is sparring verbally with Mr. Darcy, a stranger to whom she has taken a dislike, when the author reveals that “Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her.”

Now, had I been Jane Austen’s editor, I would have told her to leave out this line and all future lines alluding to Mr. Darcy’s falling in love with Elizabeth Bennett.  Instead, let us, the readers, discover that Darcy is in love with Elizabeth the same way Elizabeth does, with his abrupt proposal of marriage.  To Elizabeth, this proposal comes out of nowhere, but not to us.  Since we, the readers, are identifying with Elizabeth as we read, let us feel the same profound shock she does at this startling announcement.

Another book I edit as I read is War and Peace.  Near its end, two of the main characters, Pierre and Natasha, meet up again after years separated by the Napoleonic Wars.  That is where the book should end (spoiler alert) with them falling in love.  Tolstoy should not have included the anticlimatical scene which occurs several years past that time.

Even Shakespeare doesn’t get a pass with me.  Every time I reread  Romeo and Juliet, I find Mercutio more fascinating than Romeo.  But what does Shakespeare do?  He kills off Mercutio in Act III.  Ugg!  What Shakespeare should have done was to recognize that he had created a mesmerizing minor character and made him the major character.  He should have rewritten the play to have the man-of-the-world, Mercutio, fall for innocent Juliet.  What a contrast!

But alas, Austen, Tolstoy and Shakespeare didn’t consult with me.



Are print dictionaries still important?

When I graduated from high school, one gift I received was the American Heritage College Dictionary.  I probably used that book more than any other, judging by its dog-eared pages and split spine.  I only disposed of it when I found that some newer words weren’t in it.  I replaced it with a newer edition.

But few of my students have a college level dictionary in their homes.  Some of the younger ones have a children’s dictionary, but once kids reach middle school, they rely on a cell phone to find the meaning of words—if they bother to look at all.

Is a cell phone dictionary good enough?  What if the power goes out?  What if the phone goes dead?

The real problem I see among kids relying on online dictionaries is that students rely on the first meaning of a word whether it is correct or irrelevant to the context in which they want to use it.  Kids seem to think that all synonyms are equal.  So instead of saying “He said,” they write, “He communicated” or he “interjected.”

Students are used to searching for and accepting the quick answer on their cell phones.  Smart phones are not instruments meant for thoughtful searches or for research.  They can be used for that, of course, but by their nature, they encourage shortcuts, like texting BBF or OMG.

English is a rich language with hundreds of thousands of words, some spanking new like the spelling of “ok” and some archaic like “anon.”  The nuances of our language are as unlikely to be discovered on a cell phone dictionary as are the subtleties of spices to be found in a single cookbook.

Yet, from what I see tutoring students from kindergarten through high school, print dictionaries are not being used.  They are not yet dinosaurs, but except for people who make their living as wordsmiths or English teachers, they are increasingly collecting dust at Goodwill.

There’s no sense lamenting the passing of print dictionaries any more than the passing of cursive.  Survival of the fittest.

George Orwell’s six rules of writing

George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, published an essay in 1946 called “Politics and the English Language.”  In it he offers six rules for better writing.  I reproduce them here in Orwell’s own words.

1.  Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2.  Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3.  If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4.  Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5.  Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6.  Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

What is theme? How can students write about theme?

These questions pop up again and again as I prepare students whom I tutor for end-of-year state exams.  Often those exams require students to read a passage (or remember a novel or play studied in class) and identify a theme and write about it.

Where to begin? Student writing and thinking

An article by Zach Wright, Assistant Professor of Practice, Relay Graduate School of Education, offers great suggestions in the current issue of Edutopia (see below for a hyperlink) for middle grade and high school students writing about theme.

First, Wright suggests that students think of specific pieces of literature as not being about individuals or specific events, but rather as being about big ideas (themes) such as love or revenge or prejudice.

Next, he suggests students brainstorm a list of such big ideas associated with a particular piece of literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird.  Such big ideas could include parenting, prejudice, abandonment, friendship, integrity, fear, family, violence, and innocence.

Wright suggests teachers keep a list of such big ideas or themes visible in the classroom.  When students read, they should transfer appropriate themes to the back inside covers of their books to create a specific list of themes for that piece of literature.

Next, he suggests students take any three of the themes—he calls them triads—and create a sentence from them.  Starting the sentence with “when” gets the students going.  For example, when a person’s prejudice overtakes a person’s integrity, that can lead to violence.  (Mr. Cunningham has been shown to be a person of integrity early in the book, but when he shows up as part of a lynching mob, his prejudice leads him toward violence.)   Or, when a child’s friendships overshadow that child’s abandonment, that child feels love.  (Dill makes fast friends with Scout and Jem during the summers when he is sent away from home, letting Dill feel love).  Or, when a child’s parent shows love, that display can bring security to the child.  (Atticus shows love to Scout, holding her in his lap while he reads law reviews and answering her questions, leading Scout to feel secure though her mother is dead.)

Wright recommends the teacher know the literature well in order to show how unexpected triads can work and lead to gems of insight.


Nine tips I’ve learned from teaching the writing parts of the SAT and ACT

  1. A rewritten phrase or clause with the word “being” in it is almost always wrong. Perplexed student writing
  2. Shorter versions of rewritten grammar are usually the correct answers.  If in doubt, choose the shortest or second shortest answer.
  3. Hard to spot run-on sentences often have a comma in the middle of the sentence followed by a subject pronoun.   The comma needs to be  a period, or a semicolon.  Or you need to put a coordinating conjunction after the comma.
  4. If you have one dash, you need two dashes unless the sentence ends where the second dash would be.
  5. In lists or series, the important words must be the same part of speech such as all nouns, all verbs, all infinitives, or all gerunds.
  6. “It’s” means it is. “Its” means something belongs to it.  Its’ is not a word.
  7. “They’re” means they are. “Their” means something belongs to them.  “There” means over there or that something exists.  All three begin with “the.”  Thier is not a word.
  8. Commas come before coordinating conjunctions, not after unless what follows the conjunction is nonessential information.
  9. Third person singular verbs (the kind you use with “he,” “she,” or “it” as the subject) in the present tense end in an “s.”

The magic of snow

It snowed in Georgia this morning, the first snow this year.  I was tutoring a fifth grader still in his pajamas when the snow started.  The dining room blinds were drawn, so we didn’t know.  The student finished his lesson, stood, stretched, and walked to the door.

By Nicholas Powers, 6

“It’s snowing!  It’s snowing!” he screamed, literally jumping.  “Miss Kathy, it’s snowing! My shoes.  My coat.  I gotta get outside.  Everybody!  It’s snowing!”

The family came running.  Everyone was shouting about the snow.  None fell last year near where I live, and maybe just a few flurries spit from the sky the year before.  The forecast was for flurries in the morning and melting of anything that stuck in the afternoon.  But already more than an inch had fallen.  Serrendipidy!

The boy’s older sister looked longingly outside and then sat down next to me for her lesson.  “I remember when it snowed,” she mused, gazing out the window.  “Maybe I was three.”  We sputtered, trying to get the lesson going, but she was distracted, glancing through the blinds, now open, to the cluster of kids gathering outside, scraping the car for wet snow to pack into snowballs.  For 15 minutes we struggled, but the shouts of the kids  captivated her.  We ended the lesson.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Miss Kathy,” she said, bolting.

Guess what we’ll be writing about next week?