Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oh, grammar checker...

You try so hard, and you're so wrong so often. (Which is, of course, why I don't have you turned on normally.)
If you questioned it, they looked at you, puzzled, and said ‘don’t you know who’s giving the orders for the program?’
What does the grammar checker want done with this sentence? It wants the comma between "it" and "puzzled" turned into a semicolon. Yes. Even though the explanation for this specifically says
If the marked comma is separating two complete but related sentences, replace the comma with a semicolon.
(It adds this If the second half of your sentence begins with "then," add "and" before "then." but since there's no 'then' there I'm disregarding that.)

Yes. Apparently the grammar checker thinks
puzzled, and said ‘don’t you know who’s giving the orders for the program?’
is a complete sentence.

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At 1:08 PM, December 20, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

I've also turned off my spelling checker, because when I write in Portuguese the poor thing goes bonkers, with nearly all my words underlined in red -- and the few that aren't only because they have the same spelling as English ones, but just due to sheer coincidence, not meaning.

At 1:43 PM, December 20, 2011 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

Which comma do you mean? The one between "it" and "they", or the one between "you" and "puzzled"? Both need to be there, of course, but wanting to remove one or the other indicates two different problems in the analysis. I can see that it might be confused about "puzzled" being an adjective, when it thinks it's a verb, for example.

This stuff is hard. It's all pattern recognition based on rules. The right rules have to be entered in the first place, and there are so many that it's impossible to get them all in there. Then it has to choose the right rule to apply to the sentence, which gets harder as the sentence gets more complex. Whereas we, as humans, can do more abstract analysis and understand things even when we don't have a specific rule to apply a priori.

Back in the Dark Ages, when WordPerfect's then-new version included a brand new grammar checker for the first time, I tried it for a bit and then also turned it off because of the plethora of false positives and bad suggestions. A colleague of mine said, "Yeah, of course: you don't need a grammar checker.

He wasn't quite right, though: everyone needs a grammar checker sometimes. It's just that you and I need our grammar checkers to work better than the ones that'll be of reasonable help to most people.


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