March 5, 2014

The #1 Grammar Foe For An English Learner – Prepositions!

I know I’m a bit late, but yesterday was National Grammar Day and I was given the opportunity to check out this new website that’s been gaining popularity around the English-speaking world: Grammarly.com.

I don’t know if any of you know, but I’m not a native English speaker. Nope, English is my second language and, for a while, it was my third (until my father made me change schools to learn English as a second language because he didn’t like my Dutch accent when trying to speak his mother tongue). Granted, when I did get to take English classes, it was rather easy for me. Except for one thing: prepositions!

Prepositions are those pesky little words that link other words or pieces of sentences together while qualifying the relationship between the two (the “where, when, how” basically).

Here are a few, along with some examples, to give you an idea:
  •   Above – The birds are flying above the house.
  •  Beyond – The evil witch lives beyond the lake.
  • During – He tried to grab her hand during the movie but she kept moving it away. (Incidentally, “but” is also a preposition).
  •  Of – The main character of this book is an annoying little brat!
  • Onto – Dead tired, he plopped onto the couch and lay there for the rest of the day.
  •  Without – He decided right then and there that he couldn’t live without her.
These are tiny words that can drastically change the meaning of a sentence, and often, as a non-native speaker, in ways you may not even realize.

So I decided to test this program out with the following text and see how Grammarly would react:

Yeah, I cringed just writing
this piece!
Source
     I stared to the policewoman questioning me. “I arrived to my house on 9:07 that night, after having been at the bar down the street for a few hours,” I tell her. “I should have known something was wrong since my dog who always barks to anyone approaching the house was quiet. But after drinking a tubful worth from gin, I was happy of simply be able to open the door. “
     “How did you know what time it was?” she asks me.
     “The bar closed at nine that night, because the owners had to go to the hospital for check about their son.”
     “This wouldn’t happen to be Mr. Barnaby, would it?” the cop asks me, taking notes into her pad.
    I shake my head and immediately regret it since the movement blinds me with pain. “The one which was shot, yes,” I say. “Could I have some ice? And perhaps some aspirin too…”

As you can see, I made a very conscious—and excruciatingly painful—effort to pick as many wrong prepositions as possible, since that is the topic of this post. Here are the results of my Grammarly test:

1. The program is very simple to use—you can either upload or copy and paste your text into their website, then pick what type of review you want: 

2. You can also check for plagiarism.

As you can see, it picks up on even very mundane sentences, by doing a check on the web, and gives you an estimate of how much of your text may be “borrowed” and would perhaps require the naming of sources (in this case, I scored 15%).

3. Grammarly also picked up on a few things that I hadn’t done on purpose.

Indeed, in this case Grammarly was correct, and I could have done without the comma. On a side note, I’m also very impressed with the level of detail in terms of explanations that comes with the suggestion (and if you’re a native speaker and use this program to double check your writing, then you can choose the “Short explanations” button instead).

4. Sadly, it didn’t pick up any of the “mis-prepositions” I’d sprinkled throughout the text. Granted, this is something that’s a lot more subtle (hence why I’ve always had a hard time with them). So I decided to see if any of the other Review Styles would work.

(a) General and Academic Reviews:
This review picked up on four other things that the Creative Review dismissed, such as beginning a sentence with a conjunction (“But” or “And”), as well as the use of the passive voice (“was shot”) and the use of contraction (“wouldn’t”).
I like that this review picked up on the passive voice, because that can be an issue as a writer where, generally speaking, the more active the better. However, once again, it didn’t pick up on the wrong prepositions.

(b) Business and Technical Reviews:
Only three issues found, all of which had been found in the General Review.

(c) Casual Review:
Only picked up on my wrong comma.


OK, so it appears I totally wrote a text with the one type of mistake Grammarly doesn’t pick up on (serves me right for not reading what the program does and doesn’t do), but it appears Grammarly does check for a lot of things your regular spell check might not catch onto, including:

  •  Use of subjunctive.
  • Faulty parallelism.
  • Dangling modifiers.
  • Comma splices.
  • Incomplete comparisons.
  • Use of articles.
  • Double negatives.
  • Pronoun case agreement.

And, what I find great since it is a pet peeve of mine, it also checks the quantifiers used (another mistake I made quite often growing up).

In short, though it doesn’t seem to catch preposition errors (they are subtle mistakes to catch, after all, especially for an automated editor, and worthy of their number one spot on the Most Dangerous Grammar Mistakes list), Grammarly allows you to make much less mistakes!


PS:
For those of you curious what the text would look like with more appropriate prepositions, here it is:

     I stared at the policewoman questioning me. “I arrived at my house at 9:07 that night, after having been at the bar down the street for a few hours,” I tell her. “I should have known something was wrong since my dog who always barks at anyone approaching the house was quiet. But after drinking a tubful worth of gin, I was happy to simply be able to open the door. “
     “How did you know what time it was?” she asks me.
     “The bar closed at nine that night, because the owners had to go to the hospital to check on their son.”
     “This wouldn’t happen to be Mr. Barnaby, would it?” the cop asks me, taking notes on her pad.
    I shake my head and immediately regret it as the movement blinds me with pain. “The one who was shot, yes,” I say. “Could I have some ice? And perhaps some aspirin too…”

Note: “who” is actually a pronoun, not a preposition, but I figured I’d slip that one in as well…

7 comments:

  1. Hello
    Grammar error is major problem in English which is faced by many peoples. In order to solve this problem they are using various kind of English grammar checker tool but till now the problem is not solved in a proper way.

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    Replies
    1. Very true. I do believe I showed with this post that Grammarly doesn't catch everything, but I also showed what it can do. It's not perfect and, unfortunately, only with more practice can one learn to improve his/her English grammar. But at least this catches some good basics. But the person using the English grammar checking tools needs to be aware that the program won't catch everything.

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  2. spell checking is really good for us to write a paper.
    grammar check

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    Replies
    1. Most definitely. Especially when you're already tired and end up spelling words completely wrong sometimes, like I do (I, for example, have a strange habit of writing "female" as "femail" when not alert). I also liked the plagiarism search of the tool. However, since I'm not currently a member of Grammar Check (I only checked out what it could do), I usually just google things myself when I'm in doubt and want to be careful.

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  3. A wonderful post. I am reading your older posts and finding them so interesting. English is my third language, and my main weakness is pronunciation. I have a "vowel problem" (consonant too, but that's a different issue :) But prepositions come close to the top of my inadequacies. Such as "in" vs. "at". As do the naughty bits like "heretofore", "henceforth", or "forthwith".

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    Replies
    1. I'm so glad to hear you're having so much fun reading my old posts :) A different pronunciation can be endearing! I find I use the dictionary a lot when writing, just to make sure I'm not getting any of the "naughty bits" confused...

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  4. It is here and it works - Online English Grammar Checking Tool can easily improve your English writing by transforming it correct, professional, and impressive. Writing is being used daily by most of us for a wide range of assignments - finding new jobs, writing personal or business Emails, writing essays and articles etc. See more spelling and grammar check

    ReplyDelete