Who we are, where we came from and how we came to be what we are

This sentence was flagged as plagiarized by Grammarly. So I looked up the cite that Grammarly says I am plagiarizing, and the subjects are almost universes apart. Is this really plagiarizing?

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    I'm having some trouble understanding what you are asking. It seems to rely on a specific context, so it would be nice if you edited the question as to provide us such context
    – FFN
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 21:37

3 Answers 3


Algorithms cannot detect plagiarism. They can detect a similarity between two text which might or might not be a sign of plagiarism. Plagiarism is passing someone else's work off as your own. You can write a text that is similar to another text (actually this happens all the time) and not be plagiarizing. You can write a completely unique text and still be plagiarizing if that text is describing someone else's idea and presenting it as your own.


It's fine to question plagiarism rules (though it might not get you anywhere), but these rules will be set by the people to whom you're making the submission - an academic body, a publisher or, in the ultimate case, the law courts in your home nation or the nation of publication (if these are different).

Plagiarism will also have to refer to a specific original source. The phrase "Who we are, where we came from and how we came to be what we are." is unlikely to be regarded as plagiarism by any official body as it's likely to have occurred in many places - to the extent that it could be regarded as in common use.

(The exception to this is if you knowingly lifted the phrase from a specific text, but that's a lot more difficult to prove and I can't see it happening with that particular phrase - unless it appears in something you're known or can be assumed to have read, for example a course text book appearing in an thesis without citation.)

While online grammar checking resources offer some interesting tools, they are not the arbiters of what is and isn't plagiarism. The "isn't" is as relevant as the "is" here - if I was to write that plagiarism can't be detected by algorithms, many of the simpler resources would be unable to tell that I lifted the idea straight out of Mark's answer.

"Grammarly" is fine for what it is, but it's also worth bearing in mind what it isn't.


I am not a lawyer, but in general words are copyrighted; ideas are not. The context doesn't really matter too much, if the words are unique and convey the same idea for a different topic (which these almost definitely do), then you do not have the right to copy them! There is no excuse like "I was talking about horse breeding, and they were talking about aircraft mechanics."

A valid excuse is that it is a common formulation, but you'd have to prove that by finding other (preferably earlier) sources using the same words without any attribution. If it is a common formulation, you should be able to do that.

Ultimately human judgment is used to decide whether you plagiarized something or not. A jury, professors, or peer reviewers, or editors or publishers. If grammarly can find it, they can find it, because none of those (or lawyers) they aren't above using grammarly or similar software as a first check.

I'd say if grammarly flags it, and you can't find any other sources yourself, bit the bullet and realize somebody beat you to the punch, but it means you produced publishable writing, so there is that. You can check with a lawyer to see if it is "fair use", but it probably isn't without an accompanying citation to the original.

Bite the bullet and be an author, use your imagination to find a way to convey the same sentiment without plagiarizing somebody else.

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