I have a shocking confession to make. A truly stunning admission, especially given the fact that I am a published author. I never studied grammar.
I am not proud of this. In eighth grade, my teacher told us that we would skip that part of class studies because, well, he hated grammar and figured we did too. At the time, I thought that was awesome! I mean, who wants to study grammar? Participles, dangling or otherwise, are just a pain. Diagramming sentences? Yawn. Sure, it was a little weird to have a teacher choose to ignore a fundamental part of English education, but everything else in that class was a little loosey-goosey, and none of us 13 year-olds were about to file a complaint about the lack of subject/verb agreements.
The thing is I can fake it pretty well. I know the basics, I know what "sounds right", and for everything else, I've got a copy editor who didn't skip that part of eighth grade. Still, sometimes it's nice to know what's going on, grammar-wise, before someone else looks at my writing.
Which is why I was intrigued when Grammarly, an on-line program that checks for grammar in a much more comprehensive and subtle way than your typical word processor spell/grammar check, offered me a chance to try their program. They're the first to say that they're not a replacement for a human proofreader. It's a computer program. There are a lot of nuanced things that go on in writing that even the best computer programs won't recognize. When I tried it out, it didn't realize I wrote the name of a book title and suggested a grammatically correct alternative. Also, for fiction writers, it's slightly less useful since we do all sorts of funny things with sentence structure for emphasis or dramatic pacing. When I tried it out, it didn't like all the sentence fragments I used or my use of contractions.
Nonetheless, I found it a very helpful tool. First, sometimes it's just nice to know what rules I'm breaking. If there isn't a good reason to break the rule, I'm all for writing my sentences correctly. Secondly, for every grammatical error there was a clear explanation of what rule was violated and how to correct it (with example sentences to further illustrate the problem and how to fix it.) You can even choose between the short or long explanation.
The other service that Grammarly provides is a plagiarism checker. This is not useful for the writer, since I assume you'd know if you copied someone or not. However for all the teachers and professors out there, it could be a real equalizer and help end lazy writing. If everyone used Grammarly's plagiarism checker, plagiarism would become an awful thing of the past, like hoop skirts.
I'm not in eighth grade anymore and I realized long ago that my teacher did a real disservice to the twenty kids in his class. This is a small, easy way to start fixing my lack of education.