On Microsoft’s Grammar Checker again

A few years ago, Robin Straaijer wrote a blog post about Microsoft’s Grammar Checker. He had been inspired to write the post after hearing Anne Curzan speak on the topic during the ICEHL-17 conference at Zürich in 2012. Reading Anne Curzan’s book Fixing English: Prescriptivism and Language History (2014), which includes a chapter on the same topic, I feel similarly inspired.

The question the chapter prompted with me was to find out which usage problems the Grammar Checker deals with. As I’ve already explained a couple of times on this blog, I’m listing the usage problems dealt with in various usage guides for the book I’m writing on the genre, so what I want to find out now is how Microsoft’s Grammar Checker compares with Pinker (2014), Her Ladyship’s Guide to the Queen’s English (2010) or with Amis (1996) (and others as well, of course).

How to find out? At home, I use Microsoft Office 2007, and later versions may work differently. First click on the Home button in a Word document, then select Word Options at the bottom. Click on Proofing, then on When Correcting Spelling and Grammar in Word, set the option to Grammar & Style, and then go to Settings. You then get to see this:

Microsoft Grammar Checker

Not particularly helpful: all you see here are general headings like Sentence structure or Wordiness. How are these defined? When do they become problematical? What is the problem with Relative clauses, does Microsoft engage in which hunting perhaps? Two headings are more specific: Sentences beginning with And, But, and Hopefully (two “old chestnuts” that are treated in many usage guides, including Pinker’s) and the perennial Split infinitive, though only when more than one word is involved.

Very interesting indeed: I remember the time when split infinitives were banned altogether, though I don’t have any print-screen images from those days. I did notice about five years ago, though, that split infinitives had been accepted as correct language use by Microsoft’s linguists (if such people exist).

To permanently delete

No squiggle anymore, whether red or green! An earlier version contains a different, more polite phrasing of the same message. I did make a print-screen image of that at the time:

To permanently delete older version

Somewhere along the line someone must be making decisions about changes like these. I’d very much like to know how this works and who these people are. Linguists, hopefully.

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1 Response to On Microsoft’s Grammar Checker again

  1. Robin Straaijer says:

    It seems that in my 2010 version for Windows, this list is unfortunately no longer available. I’m curious about something though, since there is an option for Grammar & Style, which features are considered to be grammatical and which ones stylistic? Beginning sentences with And, But or Hopefully, or not doing this, is to me a stylistic choice. What is it to MS Word, I wonder?

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