grammarly example

Honest Grammarly Review (Tested in 2021)

Are you trying to take your written content up a notch? Online editing services are relatively common these days, but few have quite the same presence as Grammarly. In this Grammarly review, we’ll talk about its history, how it works, how accurate its results are, and answer some of the common questions people have about it.

What Is Grammarly?

Grammarly is an online spelling and grammar checker with a few extra features, including additional support for corrections and plagiarism checks through its paid premium service. The software is available in several forms, including in various browsers, although many people limit themselves to the website version since that has the best access to different features.

The main goal of Grammarly’s software is improving the quality of users’ writing by highlighting algorithm-determined errors and offering solutions for them. Before we discuss the details and how well it works, though, we need to know the company’s history and how it got where it is today.

Grammarly example
Image credit: Grammarly

History of Grammarly

As they explain on their blog, Grammarly has had a surprisingly long history on the internet. They’re older than many of their competitors and have gone through several significant improvements over the years, though age doesn’t necessarily indicate quality on the internet.

The opposite can be true at times. The internet loves new things, especially when they’re designed from the ground up to work. Older things were often programmed for a different environment and may have legacy code or design decisions that don’t match users’ current interests. In other words, unlike most industries, age doesn’t matter much here.

The software started around 2009 when its three founders decided to launch a virtual writing assistant after success with their previous product, MyDropBox (no relation to the popular file-sharing service).

MyDropBox was a plagiarism checker focused on schools and education. Plagiarism in other internet content wasn’t a huge concern back then, although some people were already copying content.

Grammarly evolved as an extension of its anti-plagiarism software with the idea of helping people understand the mechanics of English and teaching them to be more confident in their writing.

Here, it’s worth noting Grammarly’s Ukrainian origins. This country’s citizens mainly speak Ukrainian as a language, and while they teach English, it’s not the primary tongue. Learning English as a second or third language and using it in school is very different from being a native speaker and having decades of additional experience.

Grammarly’s founders started it as a paid subscription service, quickly earning enough revenue to give them a positive cash flow. They started expanding and hiring additional staff, and that’s when they realized people were using it for much more than education.

By 2011, people began accessing Grammarly to correct writing for their family, work emails, and almost everything else. Keep in mind that at this point, their main focus was still on standard grammar correction and didn’t have many other features.

After some consideration, Grammarly’s team decided to switch to a freemium model. Freemium is a sales and marketing setup where companies offer some services for free but charge for access to the complete set of features.

Going from paid to freemium is an unusual route for companies to take. Most businesses start with a freemium model and only switch to entirely paid formats later. However, since Grammarly was already profitable with its subscription model, it had a good base for launching a slimmed-down free version without risk.

The founders’ goals here were to provide easy access to English-language grammar correction around the world. This was viable for the company because they already had enough income from paid subscribers, and they’ve continued to operate at a profit since switching their model.

Today, Grammarly has evolved from its original form to highlight and detect problems in different areas. Its current algorithm generates over 350,000 suggestions for users per minute, giving them an enormous amount of data to feed their AI and improve the algorithm over time.

That’s how Grammarly started and got to where they are today. Now that we know more about the business, let’s get to the heart of this Grammarly review and discuss how the software itself works.

Why Is Grammarly So Popular?

Most people are bad at writing.

It’s easy to forget this when you’re visiting websites with a lot of content written by professionals and checked by talented editors and AI-based systems like Grammarly. Still, about half of all adults in the United States have basic literacy levels or below. Writing is much more challenging than reading, so only a relatively low percentage of people can compose high-quality work without help.

This issue is so widespread that most popular devices and software makers, from smartphones to Microsoft and Google, include basic spelling and grammar corrections to catch common mistakes.

Even professionals often need a little help when writing, though, at a certain point, details like word choice and sentence structure are more a matter of personal preference than linguistic need.

Put another way, users don’t always talk the way they write. Algorithmic corrections are helpful, but they’re also not advanced enough (yet) to account for stylistic choices. If you follow algorithms too closely, you can end up with text that sounds stiff, impersonal, or even outright incorrect.

How Grammarly Works

At its core, Grammarly uses an AI-based grammar correction system that attempts to parse a reader’s language and determine whether it matches general linguistic rules. Understanding written intent is considerably more challenging than it can seem on the surface. Let’s look at a simple example of this.

“Find burgers near me.”

This is a simple four-word sentence, and any native English speaker will understand it with no difficulty. Grammarly, however, needs to parse it and decide whether it’s linguistically correct.

To a proper system, this query should read as a set of basic instructions. “Find” means the user wants the program itself to respond and perform an action. “Burgers” identifies a product for sale that the user is searching for. “Near me” specifies a general location but does not give an exact radius.

Worse, that sentence isn’t grammatically correct by itself, even though people could use it that way in conversation. That means Grammarly has to look at the words surrounding that sentence to help figure out if it’s acceptable.

English is complicated, even for native speakers, so Grammarly’s relatively high accuracy for suggestions is only possible through more than a decade of experience and constantly refining the algorithm to understand complexity and nuance in people’s writing.

Once it’s decided if the text is correct or not, Grammarly assigns a value to each error it detects and uses that to help create an overall score. This rating out of 100 serves as a simple summary of quality, and it’s what most people look at to determine how many corrections they should make.

Realistically, most content shouldn’t get a perfect 100 on Grammarly. That’s possible if the content is short, but most longer works will have stylistic “errors” that Grammarly disagrees with even though the author wants to keep them.

A good score on Grammarly is usually in the 90-100 range for all but the most professionally-oriented material. You can tell Grammarly to ignore some of its results, which is handy whenever it suggests something that’s outright wrong.

Grammarly correction
Image credit: Grammarly

Grammarly’s Assistant

On the web version, most of Grammarly’s help comes through its Digital Assistant. This part of the software appears as a vertical bar on the right side of the page and lists several sections. Here’s how the assistant works as of late 2021.

Overall Score

As discussed briefly above, the Overall Score summarizes all of Grammarly’s checks and suggestions. Clicking on it will bring up helpful information like word count, reading time, and overall readability. Grammarly also estimates overall readability, with the stated goal being to help ensure about 80% of English speakers can easily understand it.

Now, this is an area where its algorithm can easily be wrong. If you’re writing content for well-educated professionals, you don’t need to worry about making the content too accessible for others.

In short, the additional information here is mostly something to check out of personal interest rather than something to worry about changing in your content.

Goals

The next part of the assistant, the Goals button, is Grammarly’s main attempt to adapt to different users. It allows you to adjust your audience, formality, general focus, tone, and intent.

English has different rules for different situations, and focusing all writing towards the same standards doesn’t make sense. Some companies want to have informal content for their releases, while others want to make their documents sound as formal as possible.

Similarly, people may want to have an analytical tone when writing a report but an optimistic tone when talking to a sick friend. Grammarly’s goals will make its algorithm stricter or easier in different ways to help adjust for things.

Alerts

Grammarly’s next four sections are colored bars that help indicate how much of the article’s content they’re affecting. Two of these, Correctness and Clarity, are fully available to free users. The other sections – Engagement and Delivery – are mainly for Premium users (where Grammarly will show free users that they’re a problem but not explain the solutions).

One thing that’s important to know here is that Grammarly is heavily biased towards its premium problems. You can fix 20 errors in Correctness, and your overall score might not budge, but changing a single Engagement issue could change your score several points.

The intent here is obvious: They want you to buy a premium subscription to help fix the errors that they’ve decided are more important, even though the average reader will more likely notice Correctness issues like obviously incorrect punctuation.

This problem, specifically, is why it’s hard to put too much value on Grammarly’s overall score. Engagement errors, in particular, can be weighted more heavily for the score than they deserve.

Premium

Grammarly’s Premium button is the only effective way to see its Engagement and Delivery suggestions if you’re not using a paid account. These sections highlight the errors (while clicking on the other buttons just prompts you to subscribe), allowing you a chance to look at them and adjust them yourself.

The final two buttons on their assistant are more Premium services, including hiring additional help for your content or using the Plagiarism checker to ensure your material is sufficiently original.

Grammarly Summary

At its heart, this is all there is to Grammarly: It finds and suggests fixes for problems. Everything else within their system is just bells and whistles.

The Grammarly Editor

Grammarly’s web version is technically a word processor in its own right. Although it doesn’t have anywhere near the features of something like Microsoft Word, it allows you to compose writing within the system and apply basic formatting, use headers, add bullet or numbered lists, and link content.

It is not suitable for adding pictures or doing other forms of advanced editing to prepare it for the internet. Further, Grammarly’s editor does not save many details about formatting and sometimes reads it incorrectly if you’re copying and pasting from other sources. In other words, you’ll need to reformat text once you take it out of Grammarly’s editor.

That’s not a huge problem, but it is a minor annoyance depending on how much editing you try to do ahead of time. Reformatting can take anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour.

Teams and Development

Grammarly is a larger company than many people realize, with Craft estimating just over 700 employees and a billion-dollar market valuation. That’s a lot of money for software that, when you get right down to it, is mostly just pointing out errors in writing. Value exists when companies do routine and helpful things, not just completely new things.

That said, Grammarly does try to do new things at times, and nowhere is this more obvious than in their multiple development teams. Understanding what these teams are and how they affect the company’s services is a key part of knowing where they are and how we’re expecting them to change in the future.

Here are the internal teams they’ve discussed.

Data Science

Grammarly’s Data Science team focuses on understanding and processing the performance of their algorithm. This is less about changing the algorithm and more about obtaining and figuring out how to get the most helpful answers from the data they’re making.

Data Science is essential to Grammarly’s overall operations because an editor that gives bad suggestions isn’t helpful. Grammarly still gives inaccurate results regularly, but figuring out what errors people report the most can help fine-tune things in the future.

The Data Science team is also helping partners figure out opportunities through correction data and helping understand user behavior. They mainly do this in the aggregate, as there’s no need to try and invade any user’s privacy. Understanding overall trends is far more helpful, especially if you can identify common mistakes from people still learning English.

If that seems like an odd thing to focus on, it shouldn’t. Remember, Grammarly started as a supplementary tool for education. They have a historical interest in this topic.

Extensions

Grammarly’s extensions team focuses on adding Grammarly into browsers, with the overall goal of helping it feel like a native part of using the internet. The extension allows users to take advantage of Grammarly’s help without copying and pasting from their app.

The obvious downside to this is that Grammarly will, by default, be able to scan everything you’re writing. The software should still respect password fields, but it does give them a truly enormous amount of data they feed into their systems for analysis, and some users may not be comfortable with that.

In short, extensions are a tradeoff between convenience and privacy, and only users can determine how important each quality is. Fortunately, you can simply avoid using the extension, thereby avoiding the entire issue.

Growth

Grammarly’s Growth team focuses on marketing and advertising the software. Its primary focus is developing infrastructure, improving internal metrics, and otherwise helping Grammarly continue improving as a company.

The Growth team probably had a lot to do with Grammarly’s tendency to minimize score changes for the free edits and increase score changes for the alerts behind the Premium paywall. They’re treading a fine line there, especially because this is probably the least altruistic team they have.

Identity

The Identity team is perhaps the least obviously named section of the company. It’s more accurate to call Identity the security team because they focus on user authentication and keeping all accounts safe.

Security issues are real, too. In early 2018, a Google staff member found that users from any website could log in to Grammarly and access documents. He dubbed it a high severity bug, but there’s no evidence anyone exploited it. Further, Grammarly fixed the issue within a few hours of being notified, which the Google staff member in question considered genuinely impressive.

It’s better when problems don’t exist to start with. However, Grammarly takes security issues seriously enough to address them as soon as they’re discovered. That’s due to the efforts of this team. We can expect Grammarly to remain reasonably secure going forward, though as always, you should never save sensitive data there.

Machine Learning

Grammarly’s Machine Learning team focuses on improving the algorithms and helping develop additional services based on their AI software. This team is arguably the most relevant for ordinary users because their activities will determine, in large part, whether the algorithm keeps improving or remains about the same.

One important thing to remember about AI and machine learning situations is that they’re only helpful once you can get them to extract valuable data. If you have results from tens of millions of users but no way to parse or understand them, the data is useless. No human can scan that much information and get valuable data out of it, much less anything on-demand.

Grammarly mobile
Image credit: Grammarly

Mobile

Mobile devices are a central part of many people’s lives, but people don’t write on them like they do with a keyboard. The reason is obvious: mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have either text-to-speech or a tiny touchpad keyboard. Both inputs discourage people from writing as much, and that affects things like user syntax.

Grammarly’s mobile team focuses on jobs like adding keyboard programs and providing faster feedback to account for the difficulty of going back and editing content on mobile after writing it.

There’s no getting around the fact that mobile devices are bad for writing long sections of text. However, whether it’s someone’s only option or just their preference, Grammarly attempts to provide better services for mobile users. It remains to be seen if they’ll succeed.

NLP

Grammarly’s Natural Language Processing team also works on the algorithm, especially when it comes to understanding conversational text and figuring out what’s an error or ambiguity and what’s a natural way people speak.

Anything that affects the algorithm is essential to everyday users, and this part of the company is no exception. Notably, the NLP team is responsible for many of the bad suggestions Grammarly gives, especially when you’re writing casual material instead of formal documents. They have a lot to do with the Goals settings inside the assistant.

Platform

The Platform team works mainly in the background at the company to help provide the hardware and software the other teams need to do their jobs. It’s important to remember that Grammarly’s servers process hundreds of thousands of suggestions for users per minute. It requires a lot of hardware to handle that much data.

In other words, the better this team does, the more effective all of the other teams will be. Tracking changes here is vital if you want to monitor the overall health of the company.

Core

The core team focuses on bringing the work of different teams together and distributing the results to users. They cover everything from updating applications in stores to determining how and when to apply software changes.

Product

Finally, the last main team at Grammarly is their Product team. They form a central position with the company and work with the other teams to streamline their performance, decide what to develop, and help the company continue growing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most common questions people have about Grammarly.

How Is Grammarly Premium Different from the Free Version?

Grammarly’s Premium service is their full set of offerings for individual users, including easier access to more corrections in areas like clarity, overall engagement, and content delivery. The browser extensions include advanced suggestions across all of the platforms they support, including Microsoft Word.

What’s Grammarly’s Business Plan?

Grammarly’s Business plan is for groups of up to 149 employees. This plan is functionally the same as the Premium plan, but with a slightly higher cost per user and additional business-oriented features like creating brand tones, account roles, and priority support from Grammarly’s team if necessary.
The free and Premium plans are limited to one user each. Technically, a business could enroll each employee in an individual free plan, but this isn’t as good for productivity or consistency throughout a company.

Does Grammarly Offer a Free Trial?

No. Grammarly does not offer a free trial for its premium services, although it does have a free version with basic functionality that you can use for as long as you want. They claim that this is a better way for people to become familiar with their software and how it helps.

What Languages Does Grammarly Support?

Grammarly only supports English, although it recognizes most differences between American, Australian, British, and Canadian dialects of English. Grammarly is not a helpful tool for writing in any other languages or regional dialects. Put simply, the developers are busy enough handling one language and can’t expand to more.
There are no current plans for expanding to other languages. That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, but it’s not likely to occur anytime soon. You should look for a different service if you plan to write in any language besides English.

Are There Any Limits to Using Grammarly?

Yes. Free and paid accounts alike have a limit on how much you can use their software. This limit is high enough that you’re unlikely to hit it unless you’re processing a truly massive amount of text, but they do exist. These limits are accurate as of late 2021, but Grammarly may adjust them anytime. See their page on the subject for up-to-date information. Currently, each Grammarly membership allows you to use the software on up to five devices. This means that you can use Grammarly on a desktop computer, a laptop, and a smartphone all on one account. Additionally, Grammarly allows you to check up to 300 documents or 150,000 words in any 30-day period. Most people only write a few thousand words a week, so this is rarely a concern. There’s also a 24-hour limit, locking you to 100 documents or 50,000 words in that timeframe.
Business users have this limit applied for each account, not for the company as a whole. The apps have some length limits. The web version lets you check up to 100,000 characters of text, while the Microsoft Word on Mac version has a limit of 150,000 characters. Both of these limits include spaces. Grammarly does not impose a single-document character restriction if you’re using their Microsoft Word and Outlook version. Grammarly currently supports .doc, .docx, .odt, .txt, and .rtf files. It does not support Markdown, Latex, or PDF files.

How Long Does It Take Grammarly to Check Text?

Grammarly can check most text in a few seconds and provide quick results. Note that it often refreshes documents when you make changes. Now, this doesn’t count against your daily or monthly limits, but you may need to pause editing occasionally while it updates.

Can Users Get Reports from Grammarly?

Yes. Notably, Grammarly allows you to download PDF summaries of its results. These summaries let you save the results and the text together, including the listed issues, the percentage of unique and rare words, and even average word and sentence length.
These reports aren’t necessary for most users, but they’re a good way to save data and reports long-term if clients, teachers, or other people want to see them. Remember that reports won’t include advanced issues for free users; those are mentioned but not shown.

How Many People Use Grammarly?

Grammarly claims 30 million users, although not all of these users access it daily. The people who use it the most have a browser extension, which corrects almost any text they’ll write online. Other people only access Grammarly to use it as needed and may use it only a few times a week at most.

Alternatives to Grammarly

Grammarly is a solid choice for most people, mainly because the free version can help people get writing that’s good enough for most situations. However, it’s far from the only spelling and grammar checker on the market. Here are some of the best alternatives.

Related post: 10 Valuable Grammarly Alternatives (Tested and True)

Hemingway App

Named for famous author Earnest Hemingway, whose direct and simple style probably came from his newspaper training early life, the Hemingway App is an accessible editor with an aggressive highlighting scheme that makes it easier to see where problems are.

This is a good choice if you want to make shorter, more concise text. It’s not a good choice if you’re writing complex material like research papers or industry-specific reports where complexity is not just possible but essential.

The online version is free, but the creators also offer a desktop version for a one-time payment. It’s simpler software than most competitors but also far more affordable.

The desktop version is usable entirely offline, with no need to connect to distant data servers. It handles basic formatting well and, notably, has integrations with WordPress and Medium that allow you to publish directly to them. That’s a nice touch.

Hemingway’s desktop editor also outputs content in HTML and Markdown for use on other sites, which is something competitors rarely offer. PDF exports with their recommendations can help you work with others.

Despite the nice features, it’s hard to recommend the Hemingway App to everyone. It’s not bad at what it does, but its focus on simplicity and difficulty adjusting for different tones and situations means it’s not as powerful for serious users. Casual users may prefer it over Grammarly, though.

Recommended: Yes, but only if you need to make short and to-the-point content. Otherwise, no.

Paper Rater

Paper Rater, as the name implies, is an education-focused system for students aiming to improve their writing. Just as Hemingway App has a bias towards simplicity, Paper Rater has an algorithm biased towards academic work.

The creators describe this as an accessible service, and it certainly is. It’s usable with no downloads or account signups, so you don’t even need an email address to access it. However, it’s worth noting that some of their services link to Grammarly, though they maintain their checker as well.

The fact that this service sends you to another company with only minimal indication when it’s doing so versus using its editor is a serious trust issue. That’s especially true because this service is actually run by Barnes & Noble’s education branch, and they have the resources to do better. Yes, the prominent bookseller runs this site.

Recommended: No. Linking people to other websites without warning is a fundamental breach of trust and not acceptable.

ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid is primarily a paid service, although it lets you edit up to 500 words at a time with their free account. Their paid plans are noticeably cheaper than Grammarly per year, and they’re both GDPR compliant and more secure than many of the alternatives.

ProWritingAid has three primary categories for its users: creative writing, business writing, and academic writing. It’s like a simplified version of Grammarly’s goals system, but it’s supported by in-depth writing reports that analyze things like transitions, pronouns, cliches, and even alliteration. This app goes further than most other services.

Beyond all that, the main thing that sets ProWritingAid apart is its extensive integrations with various services. It’s available on most browsers and word editing programs, and that’s a nice touch.

Now, this isn’t a good choice for free users, but it’s worth considering if you’re willing to pay for an account. ProWritingAid’s developers are even willing to provide custom software integrations for enterprise-level clients, plus team analytics and improved user management for big groups.

Recommended: Yes. ProWritingAid is a good choice for most people, although only if you’re willing to pay for editing instead of using a free version.

Reverso

Reverso is an online spelling and grammar editor with a comparatively simplistic interface. It only supports up to 450 characters with its online version, which isn’t much content at all. Checking longer texts requires upgrading to their Premium version. This part of their system also has a French option, which competitors largely don’t offer.

While suitable for short documents, Reverso shines if you’re using its translation functions. This is their main focus and comes with AI-powered support for languages like Spanish, Chinese, Turkish, and Japanese. They claim over 60 million users and even offer advanced features like live voice translations while speaking.

Unfortunately, while the translations are impressively good, that’s stepping a long way from spelling and grammar checks. That limits Reverso as an option for our goal here.

Recommended: No. Reverso has too little focus on spelling and grammar, so dedicated software like Grammarly will typically provide better results.

Sapling

Sapling is an AI-based business messaging assistant. While its main focus is interacting with customers, it includes grammar and spelling checks to help create professional communications.

Notable features here include quality reports that can help identify coaching opportunities, set custom rules for the algorithm, and generate automatic suggestions to help cut down on response times.

Recommended: Yes, but only for businesses with customer service departments. This is not a good editor for anyone else because it’s far too complex and robust for basic editing needs.

WhiteSmoke

WhiteSmoke is another robust editor divided into basic web and advanced desktop versions. The web version focuses on straightforward editing for grammar, style, spelling, and punctuation across documents, while the desktop version adds general accessibility.

One thing that sets WhiteSmoke apart is its addition of a translation system. Their Statistical Machine Translation analyzes millions of sources to help determine which translations are most likely to be true to the source.

This method is an impressively reliable way of translating content, but it’s still no substitute for a human translator with native-level fluency in both languages. However, if you can give them a pre-translated document, a human can perform manual editing to fix any lingering issues, saving you both time and money.

Unfortunately, there’s no available free version, and even the shortest package is a one-year deal. If you don’t like using the editor, you’ll be out a lot of money. Adding a trial version, at minimum, would make this much more appealing.

Recommended: No. It’s too expensive if you’re just looking around and trying to find the right editor for your needs. It might be worth checking if they offer a free version or a time-limited trial in the future, though.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Final Thoughts

Grammarly is one of the most-used online editors in the world, with funding and valuation to match. It’s easy to forget when looking at pre-screened content, but most people need help to make their writing sound better. This help can range from correcting common errors to needing serious revision for large parts of their content.

Grammarly is not perfect. It’s biased towards its premium evaluations, occasionally makes outright incorrect suggestions, and shouldn’t be mindlessly followed. It’s not a substitute for professional judgment, although to be fair in this Grammarly review, neither is any other editing software.

However, it is a helpful tool that can locate and correct enough errors to bring most writing to a satisfactorily professional level. In that respect, Grammarly is a practical and accessible service. Most of its important functions are also entirely free, which makes it a low-investment service.

Overall, Grammarly gets a 4.5/5 rating. The developers have some areas where they still need to make improvements, but they are working on that, and in the future, the service may get even better than it already is.

Are you looking for more information on how to improve your websites and other online content? Check out our guides to technical stuff for advice, how-tos, and additional helpful information.

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