Grammar And Spell Checkers – Never Rely On Them

You Can't Rely on a Grammar Checker

Self-publishing has given the freedom of expression to all of us who wish to use it and has probably brought thousands of manuscripts to life that were lying in a bottom drawer gathering dust.

Many manuscripts that had been posted off to literary agents, over and over again, only to be rejected as many times, have finally made it into print and ebook and are now available to readers.

Some authors have built a new business for themselves from self-publishing, while others have used it as a means to get their one and only book into the public domain.

For whatever reason, self-publishing can only be described as a resounding success for all types of authors.



So many grammar and spelling errors

For readers, however, there has been one small downside.

Many books and ebooks, which are available for sale on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and elsewhere, contain basic grammar and spelling errors.

These can be very annoying for a reader, and if there are too many mistakes, a reader will give up on the book, no matter how good the story may be.

Too many little bad apples can ruin the flow of the reading experience.

Often referred to as typos, most of the mistakes I come across are very similar in kind and are made because writers place too much trust in online and automatic grammar and spell checkers.

While online grammar and spell checkers can do a very good job of highlighting errors and making suggestions to improve a text, there are errors that will still always slip through.

No online spelling or grammar checker is perfect. In fact, far from it.

However, grammar and spell checkers are extremely useful aids when you are correcting your writing. They find a lot of mistakes and potential grammar improvements you can make.

But they are definitely not human proofreaders.


Avoiding the most common errors that will slip through

The most common errors I see fall into the following ten categories. These are all errors that cannot be detected by online grammar and spell checkers.

If you are new to self-publishing, the following checklist may be helpful in finding errors when you start proofreading your final text.


1. Wrong Tense Usage

In the middle of a scene set in the past, it is very annoying to find one stray sentence in the present. ‘It was warm, with a gentle breeze. She sat on a towel on the hot beach sand and opens her book.’


2. Incorrect pronouns

She crossed her legs and thumbed through the pages of his book.

3. Homonyms

Their weren’t many people left on the beach, but there sandcastles stood waiting to be washed away by the incoming tied.

4. Mistakes In Dates

1814 can be typed in error to 1914 or eighteen-fourteen to nineteen-fourteen. No spell checker will notice this inconsistency.

5. Compound Words

Spell checkers don’t understand the problem with bath room when it should be bathroom, or that snow flake should be snowflake.

6. Possessive Pronouns

Its, it’s, her, hers, their and theirs must be the most common errors, and are difficult for a grammar checker to detect when used incorrectly. Only accurate human proofreading will find these errors.

7. Repetition

Grammar checkers can detect errors involving the same word used twice in a row, but won’t recognise the same phrase or sentence used twice in a row.

Be careful when using cut, or copy and paste when writing, as this can easily cause errors in a text.

8. Omissions

Grammar checkers often miss highlighting a word that is missing, such as the, in the following phrase. She went to South of France for her vacation.


9. Wrong words

Affect and effect are easily misused, and marshal and martial are entirely different words. But a spell checker will rarely notice the error.


10. Character Names

Catherin, Catherine or Katherine? There is nothing more annoying than the spelling of a character’s name changing through a story.

However, a spell checker will mark all of these variations as correct.


The only reliable grammar and spell checkers are human eyes

The only way to avoid errors such as these is to forget about having any trust in a word processor’s grammar and spelling correction tools other than for a very quick and cursory scan before human eyes and logic carefully proofread a text.

Yes, self-publishing is very close to a fully automated process, but writing and writing well are not.

You should certainly use a grammar and spell checker to help you improve your text, but then you need to take one more important step.

Nothing will replace the eyes of a meticulous proofreader, a red pen, and a keen knowledge of grammar, usage and accurate spelling to produce a high-quality text.



Derek Haines

A Cambridge qualified CELTA English teacher and author of 18 books with a life long passion for publishing in all forms. I started my working life as a lithographer and spent over 30 years in the printing and publishing business. Originally from Australia, I moved to Switzerland 20 years ago. My days are spent teaching English, writing and wrestling with technology while enjoying my glorious view of Lake Geneva and the Alps.

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