Recommendation (editorial summary)
Use a combination of Grammarly and Hemmingway for best results. Together, both tools have good coverage for the types of grammar mistakes and missteps that plague business writing of various stripes. That said, as our tester notes below, the suggestions from Grammarly and Hemmingway are far from perfect, so be sure to check things thrice over even after getting their feedback.
If you, like me, remember mimeographed worksheets that asked you to circle prepositional phrases, underline subjects once and objects twice, and choose between colons, semicolons, commas, and hyphens, you do not need grammar software. As I type my emails, reports, articles, and letters to the editor, my word processing software or email setup is kind enough to point out the occasional typo, misspelling, or repeated conjunction. Occasionally something slips through, but not often. My grammar skills far exceed my technology skills, and it was therefore with some trepidation and skepticism that I accepted the task of evaluating grammar software for tooltip.com.
I tested three writing samples (plus a bonus fourth one introduced by the editors at the eleventh hour) on seven separate programs, including Microsoft Word and Google Docs. All of them gave these writing samples a first pass, and the results varied widely.
[Linguix](https://linguix.com?ref=tooltip.com) was…okay. It was easy to use, but it missed a lot of problems in the text. In one sample, it made only one suggestion, by far the lowest rate of all the programs, and it committed an error in my third sample. However, it had some other great features that could be very helpful for someone struggling with writing. One of these is templates: It offers numerous templates of all sorts, for emails, including the sometimes difficult apology email, thank you notes, essays, and social missives. These templates, accessible through the free plan, provide a useful starting points for a writer who’s blocked. Linguix also offers a plagiarism check (there is a charge for this, based on how long the piece you are checking is), a personal dictionary, so that intentionally misspelled words or names you use frequently won’t be flagged, and more. Costs range from free to $10 a month, and the program makes it easy to compare plans and see what each includes. My take? On balance, Linguix will help. But it is not foolproof. It will not advise you of every awkward phrase or poor vocabulary choice.
Furthermore, if you adopt every single one of its suggestions, you may inadvertently insert an error or two into your copy—don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you need strictly grammar, there are better programs out there. But if you need a comprehensive program to help you get through a wide variety of writing tasks, Linguix deserves a look.
[Grammarly](https://grammarly.com) is the only program that flagged a sentence fragment in one of the writing samples. It is easy to use, but is it helpful or worth the time? Yes, for anyone who doesn’t have excellent grammar skills. It allows for differences in four styles of English, American, British, Australian and Canadian, as well as options to set goals, like the level of formality you aspire to and the tone (friendly, confident, joyful, etc.) you wish to convey. I played around with these options and couldn’t tell how they made a difference in the final product, but these were short writing samples. In longer prose, they have the potential to be helpful.
Grammarly caught a lot of grammatical errors, the most, in fact, of all the programs. For someone who is not confident in their grammar, it could be constructive. But it labels its corrections as “alerts,” leaving it up to you, the writer, to decide on them. So you need to have a firm grip on grammar bugaboos such as “its” versus “it’s” and “you’re” versus “your.” Its spelling suggestions were odd at best, proffering “readjust” in place of “read just” and “check list” (as in, “check the list”) for checklist.” Neither was appropriate. Mind your tenses as well; Grammarly completely missed a switched tense, from first person to second person, in one of the samples.
[Zoho](https://zoho.com/writer) didn’t seem to do much, short of underlining a few questionable words with a squiggle. Even when I deliberately inserted a typo, it did not always elicit a comment or a squiggle. At first, I thought Zoho missed everything in the entire sample because, under Review, it offered not a single change or comment. However, as I floated around the page, I happened to click on a tiny Zoho logo in the top right corner, and a list of changes appeared. This workflow was not intuitive, at least not for me, and I could have easily missed it. Zoho concerned itself a great deal with compound words, and it missed a lot of grammar issues. It also offered some changes that I disagreed with and, like many of the other tools, completely bypassed the tense switch from first person to second person, in the third sample. For me, Zoho is a no-go.
Like its eponymous literary giant, [Hemingway](https://hemingwayapp) is colorful. It codes its suggestions accordingly, and if you take the time to learn the colors, can be very helpful: Yellow and red indicate various problems with the sentence (too long, dense, wordy, etc.), purple suggests a better, often shorter or simpler word, green points out passive voice, and blue indicates unnecessary adverbs and other problem words and phrases. The colors appear in the text and in a column on the right, with suggestions. Grammarly and [Languagetool](https://languagetool.com) make similar color-coding choices, but Hemingway is the clearest in its intent.
On straight-up grammar, though, Hemingway took too much literary license. It also missed some apparent mistakes. It highlights problems but doesn’t always give great suggestions (or any at all). For example, in one sample, it rated five sentences hard or very hard to read. True. But there were no suggestions as to how to improve them. A good writer could fix them, but the whole point is to try and remove some of the editing burdens. Hemingway did flag an incident of passive voice but gave lousy advice when it noted that it was within the acceptable limit of six usages of passive voice in a sample of this size, 238 words. Wait, six uses of passive voice in 238 words? One every 40 words? No, no, no, no! One phrase in the passive voice might be acceptable in a pinch. Six? Out of the question. That kind of advice is a disservice to the writer.
Languagetool also color-codes, although it’s a little less obvious what the colors mean. When it flags a problem, it offers a solution, which is usually, but not always, a good thing. It also provides two levels of editing, regular or picky mode. Picky mode more than doubled the alerts, from four to 10 in one document, and pointed out more subtle issues such as quotes around a word for emphasis (I had a teacher once who said that using quotation marks for emphasis is like hanging a giant sign that says, “wrong word coming”). Other grammar sites did not seem to be bothered by this.
None of these programs seemed to understand apostrophes and possessives very well. Languagetool rightly noted in my first sample that a comma was missing after the word “non-profit’s” but completely missed that it should have said “nonprofits.” The others hardly did that much. It automatically counts the words, which can be helpful but very hard to read because it first only lets one see part of the page at one time, requiring a lot of scrolling. If you click editor, it will expand and give you a better experience, but this is not intuitive.
Like the other programs, Languagetool missed fragments. A click on a squiggly line in the top right corner of your screen showcases statistics on your sample, such as word count and score. One of our samples scored 91 out of 100; all suggestions would need to be accepted to get a perfect score. The scoring is problematic—the recommendations were not all appropriate, and even if the author were to take the best ones, the sample would have merited a C at best in the hands of a liberal English teacher.
Microsoft Word has historically been my word processor of choice, so I have a fondness for it. It makes suggestions and flagging spelling errors for me as I move along. It didn’t do a great job and flagged just two items in the first two samples and three in the third. My word processor of choice didn’t come up with more helpful grammar and punctuation suggestions; I like to think it was overwhelmed by the lukewarm quality of the samples. But on the grammar front, it is not very helpful.
Google Docs has many great features, but grammar prowess is not among them. It caught very few mistakes, zero in my first sample, and just one and three in the others. Google Docs is fantastic for sharing documents, simultaneous writing and editing, and so forth, but don’t count on it to help you with grammar.
I ran the last sample written in clear English, but a little awkward, through the programs as a final check. This sample had fewer grammatical errors than earlier pages, but it didn’t flow. The results were consistent with the previous tests, with one standout, Hemingway. The tool had appropriate suggestions for adverbs and extra words (omit them). It correctly flagged an incident of passive voice that Grammarly missed, and it noted that 19 of the 63 sentences in the sample were difficult reads. But again, it didn’t offer suggestions to improve the pieces.
Grammar software has a long way to go before it’s a viable substitute for what you learned, or should have learned, in grammar school. No one tool does it all. If I had to pick one, it’d be Grammarly or Hemingway. Together they give the most comprehensive grammar review for the writer who needs extra help with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure. It never hurts to review some of those fundamental rules as well, so that you can catch what the programs miss, know when to heed their suggestions, and when to ignore them.