A Closer Look at the Grammar Checker

Word's grammar checker, like all contemporary grammar checkers, follows rules that identify potential writing problems. Word's grammar checker has gradually been refined; however, it still cannot "understand" your documents the way a friend, co-worker, or English teacher would, so it's best to have modest expectations.

On a good day, the grammar checker might pleasantly surprise you?catching things you would never have noticed. On another day, it may flag many "errors" that are, in fact, not errors at all. Later, you'll learn to personalize the grammar checker to catch only the types of errors you actually make, with fewer false alarms.

Checking Your Document's Grammar

As you learned earlier in this chapter, Word flags potential grammar problems as you work, displaying them with a green wavy underline. To get Word's suggestions, right-click anywhere in the underlined text. Word displays either potential solutions or a general description of what it thinks is wrong. For example, in Figure 8.10, Word recommends that you consider revising a double negative.

Figure 8.10. Viewing Word's suggested solutions for a potential grammar problem.


If the grammar checker makes a specific recommendation, you can click that recommendation to accept it. Or you can tell Word to Ignore the flagged words altogether. If you want to take a closer look at a highlighted word or passage, choose Grammar. The Grammar dialog box opens, with the questionable phrase displayed in green (see Figure 8.11).

Figure 8.11. The Grammar dialog box, displaying a potential grammar error.


Word displays possible improvements in the Suggestions scroll box. The category of problem it has identified appears above the flagged text. Often, none of Word's suggestions is ideal; you can then edit the text manually until the green wavy underlines disappear.

It's also quite possible that you won't agree there's a problem at all. To tell Word to ignore the sentence, click Ignore Once. To tell Word never to flag problems for the same reason it flagged this one, click Ignore Rule. To leave the sentence alone without making any decisions, click Next Sentence.

Word follows your instructions and moves to the next potential error it finds?either a spelling or a grammar error. If you've chosen to proof only part of your document, after Word finishes, it offers to proof the rest. Otherwise, it reports that it has finished proofing.


If Word keeps checking grammar during a spell check even after you've turned it off, see "What to Do If Word Keeps Checking Grammar When You Don't Want It To," in "Troubleshooting" at the end of this chapter.

Strategies for Making Grammar Checking Work More Effectively

Word's grammar checker contains 34 fundamental rules it can check in your document, ranging from determining proper sentence capitalization to recognizing clichés. Word provides two built-in approaches for checking writing. It can check the following:

Grammar Only settings:

  • Capitalization

  • Misused words

  • Noun phrases

  • Punctuation

  • Relative clauses

  • Verb phrases

  • Fragments and run-ons

  • Negation

  • Possessives and plurals

  • Questions

  • Subject-verb agreement

Grammar and Style settings:

  • All the rules in Grammar Only, plus those listed here

  • Clichés, colloquialisms, and jargon

  • Contractions

  • Sentence fragments

  • Gender-specific words

  • Hyphenated and compound words

  • Misused words

  • Numbers

  • Passive sentences

  • Possessives and plurals

  • Punctuation

  • Relative clauses

  • Sentence length

  • Sentence structure

  • Sentences beginning with And, But, and Hopefully

  • Successive nouns

  • Successive prepositional phrases

  • Unclear phrasing

  • Use of first person

  • Verb phrases

  • Wordiness

  • Words in split infinitives

Note that several of the same rules are covered in both Grammar and Grammar and Style. If you select the rule in Grammar and Style, Word not only flags the issue, but also makes stylistic suggestions for revision.

You can change the settings for either Grammar Only or Grammar and Style to apply a "mix and match" of grammatical rules to the grammar check of your document.

One strategy for deciding how to deal with the grammar checker is to run a full grammar check on a few of your documents, noticing which types of errors you make most often, and then customize the grammar checker to flag only those errors. The grammar checker is especially good at catching passive sentences, subject-verb disagreements, incorrect punctuation, and clichés.


Writing-style preferences are stored with templates, so you can set different preferences for different templates. After you've done so, the appropriate settings are automatically used when you create a document based on the template.

For more information about creating templates, see Chapter 11, "Templates, Wizards, and Add-Ins," p. 355.

Choosing Which Writing Style to Apply

To switch between Grammar Only and Grammar and Style?or back again?choose Tools, Options; then click the Spelling & Grammar tab. In the Writing Style drop-down list box, choose Grammar & Style or Grammar Only. Then click OK.

Choosing Which Rules of Grammar to Apply

You can edit either of Word's writing styles, Grammar Only or Grammar and Style. To do so, display the Spelling & Grammar tab of the Options dialog box and click Settings. The Grammar Settings dialog box opens, as shown in Figure 8.12.

Figure 8.12. The Grammar Settings dialog box gives you control over how Word checks your grammar.


In this dialog box, follow these steps:

  1. In the Writing Style drop-down box, choose the writing style you want to edit, Grammar Only or Grammar and Style.

  2. Check the boxes corresponding to rules you want the grammar checker to enforce; clear the boxes corresponding to rules you want to ignore.

  3. When you're finished, click OK.

If you later decide that you want to use Word's default grammar settings, reopen the Grammar Settings dialog box, choose the writing style you want to reset, and choose Reset All.

Looking at Figure 8.12, you'll notice that Word's grammar settings include three settings you may be interested in even if you never use grammar checking for anything else. They are listed at the top of the Grammar and Style Options scroll box, in the Require area:

  • Comma Required Before Last List Item. Some individuals swear by serial commas; others swear against them. If you're a professional writer, you may find that even your clients disagree about them, making it easy to make mistakes! You can instruct Word to make sure that you always use a serial comma before the last item of a list, make sure that you never use one, or ignore the issue completely (don't check).

  • Punctuation Required with Quotes. You can specify whether you prefer to place punctuation inside or outside your quote marks, or whether Word should ignore how you punctuate quotes.

  • Spaces Required Between Sentences. If you are of a certain age, your typing teacher taught you always to place two spaces between sentences. Now, in this era of typeset and desktop published documents using attractive fonts, the standard has changed: You should generally use one space between sentences. You can use this setting to specify one or two spaces between sentences, or to instruct Word to ignore the issue altogether.

You might decide that one or more of these three settings are all the grammar you ever want to check. In that case, choose Grammar Only as your writing style; clear all the Grammar check boxes; establish the settings of your choice for commas, punctuation, and spaces between sentences; and click OK. From now on, when you check the grammar of documents associated with the current template, Word will check only the commas, punctuation, and spaces between the sentences.

    Part I: Word Basics: Get Productive Fast
    Part II: Building Slicker Documents Faster
    Part III: The Visual Word: Making Documents Look Great
    Part IV: Industrial-Strength Document Production Techniques
    Part VI: The Corporate Word