The fine folks at Grammarly offered me free trial membership to their automated grammar-checking service in exchange for an honest review.Grammarly

I played around with it over the weekend, and it’s an impressive computer program. It can never take the place of human proofreaders and editors, however, and it doesn’t intend to.

I can’t over-emphasize that. Some people will likely find Grammarly a useful tool, but it should only be used as a supplement, not the be-all and end-all. Just as your body can’t subsist on vitamins alone, your writing can’t rely solely on a computer program.

Here’s how it works:

You paste or upload your text; if it’s a novel, break it down into smaller chunks of no more than 20 pages.

Choose how you want the program to review your text: general, business, academic, technical, creative, or casual.

This is an excellent feature. Your research paper analyzing the effects of methyl tertiary butyl ether on the surface tension of gasoline will require different writing standards than your journal entry on how you spent your summer vacation or your Revenge of the Huckleberry Finn novel.

First, you may want to click the “Plagiarism” button to make sure your work isn’t too similar to something else that’s already out there.

I tried this with a newspaper article I wrote that appears on a live website.

The Grammarly machine did not directly accuse me of plagiarism or wag its finger at me. Rather, it politely informed me of “the percentage of borrowed text that may require citations,” which was 100, and it displayed the link to the webpage where the “borrowed” text appears. Even more helpfully, it told me how to cite the source in MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.

If you hit the “Plagiarism” button, it goes ahead and conducts the full review, too. Or you can click on “Start Review.”

The review will find numerous issues. Many will not actually be issues.

It alerted me to this sentence: “Her creative, clever performance elevated the show to the hit it became.” Grammarly recommended removing the “the” before “hit,” just in case I meant “hit” as a verb. That wouldn’t work.

In another sentence, “He saw this as the ideal moment to jump in,” Grammarly cautioned me against ending with a preposition, but “He saw this as the ideal moment into which to jump” isn’t quite the same.

It will also point out grammatical errors in dialogue, and we know that people don’t always speak with perfect grammar. Sometimes in creative writing, it’s okay to break the rules anyway. Run-ons and fragments can serve stylistic purposes, for example, as long as you don’t overdo it.

You have to approach Grammarly as a tool that highlights potential mistakes, and then you have to use your own judgment to determine whether the sentence is correct (kind of like what I was saying about the thesaurus).

It provides a nice grammatical lesson with every potential error it highlights, explaining why the sentence might be incorrect and listing example sentences for comparison.

Grammarly brings structure to your proofreading and editing. If you find proofreading daunting, then this might be for you.

The review will look for issues relating to pronoun agreement, confusing modifiers, verb agreement, verb form, use of adjectives and adverbs, subject and verb agreement, use of articles, split infinitives, faulty parallelism, punctuation usage, incomplete comparisons, misuse of “like” and “as,“ redundancies, spelling, and so much more.

If you’re on the academic or technical setting, it will also make sure you’re not sounding informal.

We all make mistakes. Grammarly will likely catch some real errors, but you’ll have to wade through several false alarms to get to them.

Another nice feature is the dashboard, which compiles data on the work you upload so you can start spotting patterns. On that page, you’ll see your “Personal Writing Handbook” with lessons based on your most frequent issues.

Grammarly looks like a great site for students, or perhaps businesspeople who need refreshers on some grammar rules. Basically, the more you need to be a stickler for good grammar, the more value Grammarly will provide.

But never rely on it to do all the work for you. If you’re writing a book, you still need to hire a professional editor.

Thank you, Grammarly team, for letting me try out your site!