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I am a non-native English speaker. Grammarly is an online writing assistant.

This is a line in my draft

I liked the office, and I liked the environment-- the minimalist furniture, the Macs and Xerox machines, the coffee room, and the lounge.

I have written it like that, with the phrase, 'I liked' twice. There's nothing to convey, I just feel like my character will say it like that.

Grammarly has suggested writing it like this;

I liked the office, and the environment-- the minimalist furniture, the Macs and Xerox machines, the coffee room, and the lounge.

Sorry if it seems pedantic, but there are many similar suggestions. The setting of the scene is in London. What should I do?

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  • 49
    For what it's worth, I like your version better than grammarly's.
    – towr
    Apr 30 at 18:06
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    Video Relevant to this topic - youtube.com/watch?v=Q5rB9jDbTPU (Grammarly is Garbage). Grammar checkers are not like a spell checker for your grammar, at best treat its changes as mild suggestions, particularly with anything stylistic. May 1 at 8:45
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    @Clumsycat I'm not saying that they have no place, but if they're treated as law rather than suggestions they do as much harm as good - and, yes, that applies to non-native speakers too. I've seen plenty of butchered pieces where Germans followed the advice too closely. The problem is that grammar is frequently about intent rather than following rules. From what I've seen, Grammarly seems to be particularly bad although I've not used it myself. May 1 at 14:26
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    Note that Grammarly's suggestion isn't even correct; it should be "I liked the office and the environment" with no comma between a compound object of two items. See their own article (🙄) about the topic: grammarly.com/blog/comma
    – Drake P
    May 1 at 16:02
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    @chepner from extensive experience, using the checker is way better than not using the checker for someone with very little grammar. Without the a grammar checker, I need to the person present to understand what they meant. If they use the grammar checker, it's not beautiful, but it makes sense. It's not about nitpicking the location of commas, it's about remembering to use articles, etc.
    – Clumsy cat
    May 2 at 13:31

6 Answers 6

37

You are writing in first person. Under the circumstances, ignore Grammarly and write conversationally, like you feel the person would actually talk. If Grammarly shows you something that makes you say "oops", fine, change it.

If you are writing in third person, a disembodied narrator with no apparent feelings about what they are describing, then give Grammarly more credit. But still do not choose proper grammar over "smooth reading". Reject anything you feel might jar the reader out of their immersion in the story, trying to parse your sentence.

So for a neutral 3rd person narrator, I would take Grammarly's advice here. But you are the artist. It is okay to understand the pedantic Grammarly, and make a choice to ignore it for the sake of realism. Especially in dialogue, or with a non-neutral narrator with personality (as you have in 1st person).

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    Even for a more minimalistic third person style, the third version isn't very good: there should be no comma and the second 'the' could be dropped. "I liked the office and environment" is more readable. May 1 at 8:49
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    @JackAidley Fixed to Grammarly.
    – Amadeus
    May 1 at 9:56
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    When would a narrator start a sentence with "I liked"? Grammarly seems geared for concise business writing, not stories.
    – 54981
    May 1 at 16:13
  • @54981 A first person narrator is telling a story from their own point of view, and conveying their own emotions. There is nothing wrong with them introducing a topic with "I liked". I have seen, in published writing, a place introduced similarly, "I was always fond of London..." and the reader expects we are in London. I do agree that Grammarly does not seem geared for fiction. But it can still have some uses, even in fiction there are grammatical errors that can be jarring or just mistakes, I've cocked up a sentence or two myself in rewrite.
    – Amadeus
    May 1 at 17:36
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    @54981 Obviously if this were in third-person the line would start with "He [or she, or they] liked..." The answer is trying to be more general.
    – Barmar
    May 1 at 18:08
35

I fed Grammarly this random sample from Hemingway.

"A Farewell To Arms"

She won't die [in childbirth]. She's just having a bad time. The initial labor is usually protracted. She's only having a bad time. Afterward we'd say what a bad time and Catherine would say it wasn't really so bad. But what if she should die? She can't die. Yes, but what if she should die? She can't, I tell you. Don't be a fool. It's just a bad time. It's just nature giving her hell. It's only the first labor, which is almost always protracted. Yes, but what if she should die? She can't die. Why would she die? What reason is there for her to die? There's a just a child that has to be born, the by-product of good nights in Milan. It makes trouble and is born and then you look after it and get fond of it maybe. But what if she should die? She won't. She's all right. But what if she should die? Hey, what about that? What if she should die? [. . .] A doctor came in followed by a nurse. He held something in his two hands that looked like a freshly skinned rabbit and hurried across the corridor with it and in through another door. I went down to the door he had gone into and found them in the room doing things to a new-born child. The doctor held him up for me to see. He held him by the heels and slapped him.

"Is he all right?"

"He's magnificent. He'll weigh five kilos."

I had no feeling for him. He did not seem to have anything to do with me. I >felt no feeling of fatherhood.

"Aren't you proud of your son?" the nurse asked. They were washing him and >wrapping him in something. I saw the little dark face and dark hand, but I did >not see him move or hear him cry. The doctor was doing something to him again. >He looked upset.

"No," I said. "He nearly killed his mother."

And Grammarly gave it a low score for Clarity and a very bad score on Engagement.

81 Overall score: Correctness 3 alerts; Clarity Mostly clear; Engagement bland; Delivery Just right. We found 17 additional writing issues in this text available only for Premium users: 7 Word choice; 3 Punctuation in compound/complex sentences; 2 Monotonous sentences; 2 Intricate text; 1 Passive voice misuse; 2 more...

So while tools like Grammarly are effective for business writing and school reports, it has very poor sense of what makes for emotional and engaging writing. This text by Hemingway uses scansion and repetition to expose the narrator's true reactions to what he has witnessed. If Ernest-Baby listened to Grammarly, we'd never have ever heard of him.

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    Yeesh, what a rough segment. Yes, my thoughts exactly on Grammarly. It's for making concise business writing, not stories.
    – 54981
    May 1 at 16:17
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    I similarly fed it one of the many Kafka translations (english.stackexchange.com/a/441099/143204) and the result was as you would expect, Grammarly did not like it at all.
    – phk
    May 2 at 9:07
  • Tough piece. "If we had a better memory, nobody would have a second child." May 3 at 12:10
16

Never blindly follow a grammar checker.

Never even blindly follow a spelling checker, but grammar checkers are worse. There has never yet been a grammar checker that would not choke on unusual but grammatical constructions, and there are situations where an ungrammatical construction may serve legitimate purposes.

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    And run full-speed away from a grammar checker that pretends to be a style checker. May 1 at 2:02
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    Style checkers hate you and want to make you look like an idiot.
    – Mary
    May 1 at 2:07
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    Style checkers want you to look like an idiot so they can sell you the premium version.
    – Mindwin
    May 2 at 15:34
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    Even the premium version wants you to look like an idiot.
    – Mary
    May 3 at 0:16
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    @Mary Hanlon - the premium version doesn't care whether you look like an idiot or not. It just wants your money.
    – J...
    May 3 at 11:30
13

As a professional writer, I've never been convinced that Grammarly is capable of handling poetic elements and timing well. I would definitely go with your version and, for anything less than a technical report, would likely turn Grammarly off.

You can always flip it on at the end to double-check your work, but your version conveys more meaning, through timing and emotion, than Grammarly's does and is therefore ideal.

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I like your sentence very much. Your first person narrator has a confident, distinctive voice. If you maintain that voice, you are better than many of the students in my classes who are native speakers.

I write fiction, and I use Grammarly, which constantly calls me out for repeating phrases as you did. I continue to use Grammarly because it is a second set of eyes.

It often catches typos ("to" when I should have written "too," for example). However, when it calls out what it thinks is an awkward sentence or the wrong word, I do not blindly accept its suggestion. I do consider whether I might find a better way to write it. I like having an always-available editor who doesn't get bored, tired, or cross. And who doesn't get annoyed when I ignore its suggestions.

Tools like Grammarly let me look at my work-in-progress in different ways. They improve my work by forcing me to reconsider what I've just written.

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Grammerly is not a writing checker. It's a set of business-writing algorithms. In writing fiction, or creative non-fiction, I'd be VERY careful about taking its advice. If it says you messed up subject-verb agreement, consider its suggestion.

By the way, here's how I would word and punctuate your sentence.

I liked the office environment: The minimalist furniture, the Macs and copy machines, the coffee room and the lounge.

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    I hope the pun with the company name is intentional.
    – Mindwin
    May 2 at 15:34

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