Everyone, including professional writers, makes mistakes in their writing. Even when you get the basics down, hunting down higher-level grammar and style nuances can be overwhelming. Grammarly, which calls itself a writing assistant, can help out in those scenarios. This app for writers suggests spelling, grammar, and style changes in real time and can even edit for specific genres. Although its paid subscriptions are a bit expensive and the service does not work offline, Grammarly’s support for many platforms and ease of use make it well worth the cost.
Improving Grammar (Almost) Everywhere
Grammarly costs $29.95 per month, $59.95 per quarter, or $139.95 per year. If this price seems high, know that Grammarly frequently offers subscription discounts. For the price of entry, you get customized checks for different document types, a plagiarism filter, and a function to help diversify your vocabulary, among other extras. Grammarly also offers a limited free version that checks for critical spelling and grammar errors. Grammarly’s Business tier costs $15 per member per month and is billed on an annual basis.
Grammarly offers native desktop clients for both Windows and macOS; browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge; and a Microsoft Office add-in (now on both Mac and Windows platforms). Grammarly is also usable on Android and iOS via a mobile keyboard app.
Grammarly supports two other major writing platforms: Google Docs and Medium. The Google Docs integration recently gained new features, which I discuss in a later section. However, you still need to use the Chrome Extension to get Grammarly’s full Google Docs experience.
I would like to see Grammarly added to Apple’s iWork Suite, as well as LibreOffice or OpenOffice for Linux users.
Getting Started and Security
Grammarly checks your writing against its database of content and style errors as well as anonymously collected data from its daily active users. The downside of this real-time model is that Grammarly requires an internet connection to work. In use, Grammarly underlines critical mistakes in red (spelling and basic grammar), and advanced errors in other colors (style and best practices), though the latter capability is limited to premium users. Hovering over any of the indicated words or phrases brings up the option to fix the error directly or read a more detailed explanation of the mistake.
I appreciate the descriptions’ clear language and use of sample sentences to illustrate mistakes. It’s more detailed than what you get with the built-in grammar checkers of both Google Docs and Office 365, though the latter’s is improving quickly. I also find the error count that Grammarly adds at the bottom of every document to be an efficient way of showing how much editing work I have left.
You need to be aware of the potential privacy and security risks of any software that checks what you type. For example, in 2018, Tavis Ormandy, a Google security researcher, reported a vulnerability with how the Grammarly browser extensions handle auth tokens. Grammarly resolved the issue shortly after this release and noted that the vulnerability only had the potential to expose data saved in the Grammarly Editor.
Even though Grammarly handled the response well, you still must exercise extreme caution with software that can view and modify your input. That said, Grammarly does differ from a keylogger in a few important ways. For instance, Grammarly requires your permission to access what you are writing and visually indicates when it is working. A company representative also told me that Grammarly “is blocked from accessing anything you type in text fields marked “sensitive,” such as credit card forms or password fields.” I still recommend you disable Grammarly for such sites in case they are not configured correctly, as well as for things like sensitive legal documents. Note that Grammarly’s bug bounty program on HackerOne is available to the public and that Grammarly maintains a page about its security practices, including its encryption practices (Grammarly uses the SSL/TLS 1.2 protocols to secure connections and AES-256 to secure data at rest).
I installed the Grammarly desktop app on my Windows 10 machine and had no issues signing in to my account. The app looks great and the layout is highly functional; I particularly like the side panel’s dark accents and minimalist icons. Users can choose between composing text directly in an editor and importing an existing document.
If you just copy and paste text from a Word document into the Grammarly app, Grammarly says it only retains bold and italic formatting, lists, links, and headers. In testing, I found that it also kept underlined text. If you want to keep the full formatting of the text (including paragraph spacing), use the import tool to add the document. You won’t see any formatted text while you work in the Grammarly editor, but the document retains all of the original formatting whenever you export it.
Since the editor now thankfully includes formatting tools such as for bold, italics, underlines, headings, links, and lists (both numbered and bulleted), you could just write directly in the Grammarly app. However, it’s likely easier to keep writing in Word or Google Docs and use the dedicated Grammarly tools for those platforms.
Within the desktop app, click on the Profile icon to make edits to your personal dictionary and switch your writing language among a few different variants of English: American, Australian, British, and Canadian. Grammarly is not currently available in any other language than English, so it won’t supplement language learning software—unless, of course, you are trying to learn English. Within a document, the right side of the window houses tabs for spelling and grammar errors, premium writing checks, a plagiarism checker, a human proofreader option, and an overall writing score based on these factors. As mentioned earlier, the writing score is helpful for getting a quick check of your writing progress and how much revising you have left.
Two other features available are Goals and Performance. Goals launches whenever you import a new document; it helps Grammarly adjust its edits based on the context of your writing. For example, you can specify your intent (inform, describe, convince, tell a story), audience, style, and emotion. Premium users can choose between different writing domains, including Academic, Business, and Creative. The Performance popup shows you general data such as word count and reading time, in addition to vocabulary and readability metrics. These metrics are calculated based on comparison with other Grammarly users and the Readability score is based on the Flesch reading-ease test. Both additions make Grammarly more useful at a higher level than that of simple error checking.
Another feature for premium Grammarly users is a consistency check. Essentially, Grammarly will scan your document for and offer to fix inconsistent styling of dates, abbreviations, times, and capitalizations. You can think of this feature as a glorified find-and-replace function, with the benefit of automatic detection. In testing, Grammarly was quick to find this type of errors, suggest fixes, and implement the changes in one action.
For example, I typed the date, May 1, three different ways: May 1, 1 May, and May 1st. Grammarly detected each variation and gave me the option to convert each instance to any one of those three formats. However, the editor did not detect that May 1 and 5/1 were equivalent, nor that 5/1/19, 5/1/2019, and 5/1 should be standardized (although it did recognize that these phrases were repetitive when present in back-to-back-to-back sentences). I hope Grammarly broadens its detection moving forward, as it is quite useful.
Web and Program Add-Ons
On the web, the Grammarly plug-in reviews everything you write in real time, from composing emails to jotting down notes. The extension marks mistakes with underlines the same way it does on any other platform, and you can click on each word to get more information about the error. Note that if you work within a content management system, Grammarly may insert code into the source text at the spot of the error. It is never a good idea to have inconsistent or unnecessary code on any page, so you should disable it on such pages.
Grammarly’s latest update improves the experience in Google Docs. In addition to a new dedicated sidebar, Grammarly’s clarity, engagement, and delivery suggestions (these last two are for premium subscribers) are now available, alongside the Set Goals module. These features are only available via the Google Chrome extension; if you use the Grammarly extension for other browsers with Google Docs, you only get inline edits.
The Microsoft Office Add-in lives as a menu item in the Office Ribbon for both Word (Mac and Windows) and Outlook (Windows). You can toggle the types of issues that you want to view in your current document, including spelling, punctuation, and style errors. Grammarly opens as a sidebar window and shows mistakes in a contextual location within the document. Click on the specific corrections to see details. Although opening Grammarly disabled Microsoft Word’s revision tracking and Ctrl + Z shortcut in the past, both capabilities work now with the add-in active in our testing.
A Useful Companion
I found myself using Grammarly quite a bit during testing. You could argue that Grammarly encourages lazy writing, and that’s at least partially accurate, as some people will take advantage of its thorough checks without bothering to learn from the insight it provides. It’s well suited for people actively looking to improve their writing but still caters to users who aren’t aware that they need help. Grammarly’s real value is its ability to highlight your most common mistakes and help you avoid them going forward. Occasionally, I did find the real-time edits distracting in my testing and disabled Grammarly so that I could finish typing a thought without being interrupted. Grammarly might be more useful during the revision portion of your writing process as a final check for errors and inconsistencies.
I was hard-pressed to find much of a difference between the free version of Grammarly and the built-in spelling, grammar, and style checker in the latest version of Microsoft Office. Both correctly identified spelling errors, convoluted phrases, and incorrect grammar usage. Grammarly’s advanced editing checks, which help you clean up all the middling grammar tidbits, suggest alternatives to commonly used words, as well as provide contextual edits for the sake of clarity are highly useful. For example, Grammarly is a stickler for getting rid of unnecessary commas. Another clear benefit of Grammarly is that it works in more places across your workflow.
Occasionally, both Grammarly and Office make wrong suggestions, which proves that you still need to pay attention to edits instead of just mindlessly accepting them. For example, it suggested I add an article in a few places that didn’t require one. Still, some users might not like the omission of an “Accept All” button strictly for some of the more rudimentary spacing and comma usage errors. Note that even authorities on grammar, such as AP, Merriam Webster, and Oxford sometimes disagree on some rules like hyphenation and capitalization, so no grammar-checking tool is perfect. For instance, Grammarly suggested I capitalize the word “kanban,” since “it appears that the word kanban may be a proper noun in this context,” even though Merriam Webster and Oxford do not do so.
Each week, Grammarly sends an email recapping your writing activity, called Grammarly Insights. This provided me some helpful information, such as the three most common errors I made, as well as metrics that mostly correspond with what the Insights tab shows from the desktop editor. It also highlighted some neat statistics, such as how many words it checked and how many unique words I used.
Grammarly’s keyboard app is available on both Android and iOS devices. I tested the app on my Google Pixel running Android 10. As you might expect, the Grammarly keyboard helps you correct grammar and spelling errors as you go. It’s useful for everything from writing emails to composing social media posts to editing long-form documents.
In Settings, you can select either the light or dark color theme, choose whether to show key borders and the number row, or toggle vibration, sound, and popup on keypress. I like that you can even adjust the keyboard height on the screen. Grammarly’s app finally supports swipe typing, too. However, it lacks all of Gboard’s extras that push you to Google services, such as web search and translation. That said, I appreciate the clean design and don’t think feature parity should be Grammarly’s goal. Power users may disagree.
As you type, Grammarly pops up suggestions and corrections automatically. You can swipe through and accept these changes with ease or hit the green Grammarly icon in the upper-left corner to check it again. If you tap on individual edits, Grammarly opens a card-based interface with more in-depth explanations. The experience is fluid, and it’s easy to go through edits quickly. As in the app’s desktop counterpart, the keyboard edits and suggestions are usually helpful and accurate, especially if you pay for the full version. The autocorrect for spelling is just as good as what you get with the standard keyboard, but its corrective grammar edits are its biggest appeal.
The keyboard settings are fairly robust. In addition to the appearance and behavior settings I already mentioned, Grammarly lets you change basic editing options. You can toggle autocorrect and auto-capitalization options, select a language preference (American, Australian, British, or Canadian English), and even allow it to suggest contact names as you type. The remaining sections let you give feedback, access the support portal, or switch accounts.
Grammarly Improves Your Writing
Grammarly’s thoroughness when it comes to spelling, grammar, and style suggestions is its greatest strength. The premium version is a luxury at $29.95 per month, but writers of all kinds can benefit from adding Grammarly to their workflow. Although we would still like to see an offline mode, recent additions, such as enhanced Google Docs support and the launch of Grammarly for Word on Macs, make the service easy to recommend.