Grammarian review

Yesterday, I installed the try-before-you-buy version of Grammarian (PRO X, version 1.7) and gave it a whirl. Here’s a bit of foreshadowing: by the time you read this post, Grammarian will have been wiped from my hard disk.

The installation went smoothly, but I can’t say I’m happy with its aesthetics. Grammarian installs itself under the International menu (the one that looks like a little flag and let’s you bring up the Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer) in the system-wide cluster of little menus near the right end of the menubar. If you don’t already have the International menu visible, you have to go to its preference pane and make it visible. When you activate Grammarian, it

This is a lot of space for a little utility to take up. There’s a Grammarian preference--checked by default--called “Show Grammarian’s menu and dock icon.” I unchecked it and the dock icon disappeared, but the menu icon didn’t. So now I have two new menus when Grammarian is active, and they have the same menu items.

Moving past the aesthetics, I opened a recently written report (in Markdown format) in TextMate and told Grammarian to critique it.

This was a technical report and, as is often the case with technical reports, it had a lot of passive voice. (Yes, I recognize the irony of writing the previous sentence in passive voice; that’s why I wrote it that way.) I hoped that telling Grammarian (through a menu option) to classify the report a Technical would reduce the complaints about passive voice and the use of “to be” verbs.

Grammarian reported hundreds of errors. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the reported errors were legitimate, but the only error message I saw was

Capitalization: Capitalize proper nouns. i

Now, this is, of course, a legitimate complaint when the “i” referred to is the personal pronoun. But I think I’m on solid ground when I say the capitalization rule does not apply to an “i” in the middle of a word! Yes, Grammarian flagged every “i” in my report with this insightful error message, colored it red and underlined it.

Brilliant.

I tried another report; same problem. Then another, and another. Out of eight reports I tried, Grammarian had this problem on seven and was therefore useless. These are plain text files; there is no excuse for Grammarian’s failure.

For reasons I cannot explain, Grammarian finally got past its “i” problem on one report and gave a real critique. Some of its criticisms were valid, and I wish I had written those passages according to Grammarian’s suggestions. Some of its criticisms happened to be wrong for the tone and audience of the report, but Grammarian can’t know those things and I don’t fault it for making the suggestions it made. Some of its criticisms were just stupid:

Parsing English is very hard, and it doesn’t surprise me that Grammarian would sometimes get things like include/includes wrong. I don’t understand its categorization of words and phrases, though.

In a nutshell, then, Grammarian does not make the cut because it clutters my screen with redundant menus and completely fails to handle most of the files I need it for. When it can handle a file, a careful reading of its suggestions will improve the writing--it made two suggestions that improved this post--but its faults far outweigh its benefits. I’ll be uninstalling it right after I post this.

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