Review: Grammarian Pro2 X helpful but needs more tutoring
By Nathan Alderman
At a glance
In my work as a writing coach, I’d appreciate a reliable program that automatically checked text for serious spelling and grammar errors. Despite its earnest and considerable efforts, Grammarian Pro2 X doesn’t entirely fit that description.
Grammarian runs primarily from a pencil icon in the Mac OS menubar, working with any program where you enter and edit text. I used it successfully with TextEdit, TextWrangler, Microsoft Word, Apple Mail, and Literature & Latte’s Scrivener. I liked Grammarian’s customizable level of assistance. If you only need occasional aid, you can run manual spelling and/or grammar checks of selected text or an entire document. Turn on Interactive Checking to flag errors and suggest corrections as you type. (Grammarian can even whimsically speak warnings like “phrase usage!” or “punctuation error!”)
A built-in AutoCorrect system brings this longtime Word feature to any text editor, allowing you to specify common misspellings and their correct substitutions. AutoType capability transforms quick abbreviations into full phrases—“idk” to “I don’t know,” for example.
I was also impressed by Grammarian’s statistical analysis. It can measure your work’s readability on the Flesch, Flesch-Kincaid, or Gunning FOG scales. Further features analyze each sentence for passive voice, confusing syntax, and other measures of writing proficiency.
Unfortunately, my tests suggested that Grammarian needs further education. While it excelled at flagging needlessly wordy phrasings, it also highlighted alleged grammar violations that were incorrect in isolation, but correct in context. For example, it mistook a person’s name, “Olive,” for the fruit, and insisted I put a “the” before it. Thankfully, the program doesn’t force any of its suggestions upon you.
Grammarian also had occasional trouble tracking what I typed when running automatic spelling checks. As I highlighted and changed words and phrases, it would sometimes suggest alternate spellings for nonsense words I never typed, based on different pieces of the text.
The program’s spell check promises to correct misused homophones like “access” and “excess.” But it breezed past sentences such as “Their canvas of the neighborhood failed to uncover the missing canvass.” Though Grammarian did catch many examples from the list of commonly confused words on Linguisoft’s website, it missed plenty of others.
Grammarian’s interface isn’t particularly pretty, but it won’t get in your way. The program’s abundance of menus—you can run it via the pencil icon, a Mac OS X input menu, or the dock icon—seems redundant, although you can hide the dock and pencil icons in Preferences. I initially had to hunt for two of the six Preference panes, which reside in a menu to the right of the other four.
Creator David Long is working constantly to make the program smarter—no easy feat, given the peculiarities of the English language. He responded quickly to all my requests for help, and he’s clearly dedicated to perfecting the program.
At nearly $50, Grammarian Pro2 X may not be right for everyone. Its genuinely useful features and good advice too often battle with its idiosyncrasies. But if you don’t mind paying up for a studious second opinion on your writing, you’ll find Grammarian Pro2 X a lot more useful and thorough than Apple or Microsoft’s built-in writing tools.
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