Is it worth paying for Grammarly?

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Grammarly is a free app with a paid-for premium option. Is it worth spending the money for the more expensive option?

One of my clients has a subscription to the grammar-checker service Grammarly. The basic function offered by Grammarly — identifying most spelling and grammar errors — is no charge. But if you want the more robust version you need to pay $29.95/month.

That cost sounds small, but like cell phone and cable bills, it adds up quickly. That relatively small monthly fee works out to $359.40 per year, which isn’t exactly small potatoes. Of course, you can save some money if you’re willing to pay quarterly ($19.98/month or $239.76 per year) or annually ($11.66/month or $139.92 per year). But — here’s my important warning — don’t sign up for a year-long program unless you’re certain it’s going to pay off for you.

So, what’s the difference between the free version and the premium one? And how does it compare to the spell checker everyone gets with MS Word? Here’s my take on spelling and grammar checkers:

MS Word is better than nothing. But not by much. It will catch some of the more egregious errors you might make. But it won’t always identify homonyms — words that sound the same but that carry different meanings: road vs. rode, for instance. (I just did a test, and Word captured the difference between their and they’re so its artificial intelligence has improved in the last five years, at least.)

The free version of Grammarly is much more sophisticated than Word. It captures a bevy of errors that Bill Gates’ software ignores. I just ran my blog post from last week through it, and it identified 12 of what it termed “critical issues” in the post. I didn’t agree with some of them as I eschew the Oxford comma (unless I need it for clarity) but it caught a few items I had missed. For example, in the sentence:

This is almost always wrongheaded, and is a terrific way to convince yourself that you have a case of writer’s block.

Grammarly told me that I shouldn’t have used a comma after wrongheaded. Oh, oh. Grammarly was right.

Then again, for the sentence:

Some people are born tall; others are born short.

It told me that short should be shortly. Nice try, Grammarly, but you’re wrong about that.

In any case, I appreciated the little explanatory notes Grammarly provided with each “error.”  I also liked the way I was able to ignore their advice when I deemed it wrong or unnecessary.

More alarmingly, the service told me I had 30 “advanced issues,” and I needed to pay for an upgrade to find out what they were. Although it pained me to spend $29.95 for checking a single article, in the interest of investigative journalism, I decided I had to do it. (Also, while you must give them your credit card number upfront, you’re entitled to a refund for up to a week.)

So here is the information the extra $29.95 bought me:

*An unclear antecedent:

This is almost always wrongheaded, and is a terrific way to convince yourself that you have a case of writer’s block.

I think Grammarly was right that my “this” wasn’t transparent. Guilty! I have a bad way of being unclear with antecedents.

*An overuse of the progressive tense:

I’m having to re-do work that I did once before.

Yes, Grammarly was correct. I should probably have said, “I have to re-do work that I did once before.”

*A repetitive word:

Do a mindmap rather than an outline. I know your grade 10 social studies teacher told you that you always needed to prepare an outline.

I disagree. Some word repetition, used deliberately, can help “pull” readers through articles.

I won’t bore you by listing the other errors. Let me just say they were in a similar vein to the ones I’ve just listed.

So, here is my verdict about Grammarly. I think the no-cost service is excellent and I’m going to start running all my writing through it. For most people, I believe the premium service is not worth the cost. But if your boss wants to pay for it for you, then accept his or her offer.

Also, if English isn’t your first language, or if you’re dyslexic, I think the no-cost service will still catch the vast majority of errors that you need to worry about.

Finally, here’s an essential point to understand: the service is automated. It doesn’t involve a breathing human proofreader or copy editor. It’s a machine doing the work. Hence, it’s not going to offer the kind of detailed, intelligent feedback you would get from a well-trained human being.

You can pay Grammarly extra, if you want, to have them forward the piece to a real live person. But I always prefer to develop a relationship with my own living, breathing copy editor.

*

My video podcast last week aimed to help writers stop holding their breath while working. See it here and consider subscribing. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email,  twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

*

Do you use a grammar checker? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post  (or any others) by April 30/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

Posted April 18th, 2017 in Gray-Grant Communications

  • Beth

    I fully agree with your assessment of Grammarly. I made the mistake of paying for a full year’s subscription before I had tried it long enough to understand that no live body would ever be there–not even when the automation finally sends a notice that Grammarly does not work on any Apple divice.

    • That said, I do know some people — particularly those who speak English as a second language — who find it very helpful.

      • Charles Broming

        I agree, agree, agree!

    • Charles Broming

      Beth,
      I use Grammarly on my MacBook Pro. The desktop app works, too. When did you experience this problem? It might exist no longer.

  • Diane Hook Spadola

    Thank you Daphne—always appreciate it when a coach/consultant can actually save me some money! Also, I would not have know about those grammatical errors except for the comma after “wrongdoing”…so I guess the free version is “smart enough for me.” PS I do not write for a living…..

  • Julie

    Thank you. I didn’t want to pay the monthly fee. My mom and grandmother were both English teachers so I had grammar drilled into me. I caught most of the mistakes you listed so the free version work well for my limited writing.

  • Charles Broming

    Thank you for test-driving the upgrade. I use the free version (I like it; benefits outweigh costs such as annoyance), but I’ve always wondered whether I needed or would benefit from the upgrade. The examples you offered are examples I would catch or just not write ordinarily. But, I usually get several yellow alerts that shall remain opaque until I fork over the cash for the upgrade. For unlimited usage at $30/month, or other plans, it has to be automated to make any economic sense. If you put 500 words/day into Grammerly every weekday for a month, your input would total 10,000 words. What live proof-reader would charge $30 for 10,000 words?

    Btw, “re-do” [something] implies that the [something] had been done, so the phrase, “that I did before”, is redundant. Thus, “I had to re-do some work.” is adequate. And, regarding, “This”: when I read that word (or “that”), my little, inner reading voice says, “what?”, as in ” This [insert a noun, noun-phrase, or gerund here]”. It’s automatic. I can’t control it. So, when I write or edit, my auto-edit kicks in when I see that I’ve used an antecedent without its referent.

    So many writers don’t pay close attention to the language they use. Telling a good story isn’t enough; one must tell a good story well. To tell a good story badly or not to tell it as well as it should be told denigrates the story.

    • To address your question, Charles, no live proof-reader would charge $30 for 10,000 words! But if you were to hire a real live person to edit those words, you’d get a lot more feedback than Grammarly would give you.

  • Andrea and Kate

    I haven’t been using Grammarly but have always been curious about it so I really appreciate this commentary. Thanks for “taking one for the team”!

  • Tongwei Wang

    I used grammarly for several times and I totally agree with you. It is helpful for me to find some obvious grammar mistakes, but not everything.

    • The free version is very good and worth using; I just don’t think the paid version is worth it.

  • I agree with your assessment on all counts. Grammarly is a handy tool, but for me, it wouldn’t be worth the paid subscription. Every year or so, I look at it again and always come to the same conclusion. I wonder if they wouldn’t get many more subscribers if they cut that monthly fee in half.

    • I’m not sure that would work for them. In fact, they could probably raise the rates they have now and get almost as many people. Not everyone is careful with how they spend their money.

  • Christine

    I was introduced to Grammarly when I went for my BA in English. Some errors it showed me were ok, and then there were those that I did not agree with. I’m not going to pay monthly for this type of software. I mostly use MS Word’s own error checker.

    • Christine: I urge you to use the free Grammarly app. It’s much more sophisticated the MS Word! Just don’t bother with the paid version.

  • Taran

    Thanks for the test-drive and the frank assessment. You saved me time and maybe money.

  • Nagaraj

    Thank you for the article and suggestion on the Grammarly app. Once they have the email, they bombard with deals and I fell for one of their sales pitch for $79 per year. If anyone signed up like myself, make sure to turn off the auto-renewal option.
    This app is ok for me however, sometimes it is annoying because it keeps checking my writing and I hate to see the error keep going up. Sometimes, I turn it off while I write and later turn it on. I think you also recommend writers to write first and later edit instead of editing the words as one write. That is the big disadvantage with this product.
    Thank you.

    • You make a very good point about turning off such devices WHILE writing. They are only distracting and there is nothing to be gained by fixing errors immediately.

  • Dana

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been curious about it from seeing their ads everywhere but hadn’t heard a good “is it worth it?” from someone whose opinion I respect. Great post!

  • Liz Kahurani

    Downloading the app already, thankyou!

  • Albert

    Very glad you covered this. I pay for the premium version and am very happy with it. I like the advanced features and vocab enhancement. Reminds me that I often over-use words when I get into a flow. I not only put my novel pages through here but almost every email I write.

    • Chacun à son goût (to each, his own.) Glad to hear it’s working for you!

  • Kelly Hennessey

    Hi Daphne, my comment for today is one in general. I find it a little jarring that the first comment appearing in my inbox from your weekly blog is, “Don’t want to receive my newsletter anymore?” What I want to see first is the “tease” that draws me in. Somehow, to me, this beginning with a “you can quit me” strikes me as a devaluation of what you are doing. Kind of like, “I hate to bother you (even though you signed up voluntarily for my content).” Maybe that “Canadian I’m Sorry” thing? I practice PR mainly in writing content and storytelling. I have followed and read gobs of writing advice/materials through 30 years and your blog content, your perspective, your book (which I bought) are well written, insightful, fearless and inspiring. Weekly, I wouldn’t miss checking out what you sent. I even read topics that don’t really interest me because I know I will still learn something from you. Would you consider starting your emails with the “tease” and give us the “opt out” at the bottom? (I do like your reading time advisory.) Keep up the great work! You get to the heart of writing matters so very well. Thank you! (OK, maybe I did edit this as I wrote. Several times.)

    • Hi Kelly, You make a really interesting point and I will discuss it with my webmaster when I meet with him next week. Part of the reason I begin with the “how to opt out” message is that some people don’t remember signing up and no longer want to receive my newsletter. These people tend to quit right away, which is 100% fine with me. But it’s not fine when they report me as spam, as some of them do. For this reason, I want to make it super easy for people to quit if they’re not interested.

  • Kelly Hennessey

    Ah, yes. So I guess a question is, how often are you reported as spamming? Are you overcompensating? I don’t manage my own blog, so I also wonder if that puts you on a “bad list”. I’m thinking more of the mentality we often have as writers/humans to focus disproportionately on the few negatives that outweigh the big positives. I look forward to hearing your conclusion!

    • I get one to five complaints per week. This is considered “normal” given the size of my list but I must say I find it very odd. The newsletter goes out every week so people will have signed up no more than seven days previously. You would think they’d remember! Anyway, as I said, I’ll speak about it with my webmaster and see what he thinks.

      • PS: Not sure what you mean when you say that you don’t “manage” your own blog. I post my own articles, and I distribute them via Aweber (I have a student who does the data entry for that for me) and I also have a webmaster. In any case, I’m not sure how anyone would know that, either way… I don’t think it could possibly put me on a “bad list.”

        • Kelly Hennessey

          I often think, “Who manages that universe spam list?” when someone checks the spam box to get off the e-mail list. (This is what I meant about not running my own blog – I feel I would know this and have a webmaster to consult and I am sure your webmaster will have these answers.) If you are considered to be spamming too much – is there a limit somewhere in the blogging universe that will stop your blog from going anywhere if you reach the limit? (I think not.) I bet your list is pretty large and 1-5 spam reports a week feels like pretty much 0. People spamming you just aren’t paying attention. Is that worth the email lead-in for the rest of us? 😉 Until the webmaster meeting!

  • KSW

    Thank you so much. I think I will download it and try it out. Sounds like an improvement over Word. (I am so glad you are in my writing life!)

  • KSW

    Oh, Grammerly is not supported for MS Office for MAC. But I can use it online. just an FYI

    • I find that very odd. I’m on a Mac and I had no difficulty using it.

  • KSW

    Daphne – do you use it as a plug-in to your Word?

    • Now that you say that, I think I just use it online.

      • KSW

        Thanks so much. I think I will use it that way, too.