Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users


©1999 Mary Keene

Washington Apple Pi Journal, pp. 53-58, May/June 1999, reprint information

I installed Grammarian on my Power Mac 6100 running OS 8.1 and ran it without any problems. It was pretty intuitive to learn, no weird stuff or complex things to remember, point and click. I liked it. It has a very comfortable way of letting you know there are errors. I have used other grammar checkers that are belligerent or aggressive, or just enjoy letting you know they caught another mistake. Grammarian is not like any of those. It is gentle; more specifically, it is pretty accurate and doesn't have a one-note theme. Some of the very early grammar checkers could only check for passive or active verb use. That gets old fast.

Initially, I didn't test anything specific; I just installed it, activated it, and watched what happened. I had tried Grammarian previously by downloading the demo version. The version I got on the floppy diskette was the same but generated a strange report: a punctuation error when I typed a period at the end of a sentence. Since I was just perusing the software at this point, I made a note to come back for specific testing of this oddity and continued playing with it.

You can run Grammarian in either an interactive mode or a "silent" mode. In the interactive mode, a pleasant computer voice quietly states the problem as soon as you type a grammatical error. It will permit you to keep typing and is not a significant distraction, especially if you work in a noisy environment. The silent mode can be used at intervals to proofread what has been written; alternatively, you can complete the document and proofread it all at once. You can also choose to have Grammarian pop up a message noting an error at the point of commission instead of or in addition to speaking the error.

After I finished exploring the features, I went back to investigate more specifically the puzzling punctuation error message and to select screen shots to illustrate the features. Before I got very far, I had an acute hardware problem that forced me to suspend working with Grammarian for a while. I had been using my scanner, PhotoShop 3.0 and Flashback to scan some old family pictures for archiving. Suddenly I got an urgent message that my hard drive only had 796 K of storage space left! Moments before I had at least 100 MB; furthermore I couldn't use the Finder, I couldn't shut down, I couldn't do anything! I mention these things only because this began a very weird two-week time frame, and I don't know if the one legitimate problem I had with Grammarian was its fault, a wrong version problem, a system problem that is mine alone, a "once in a blue moon" problem (remember, this is a blue moon month and a year when we have two blue moon months!), a current version problem with OS 8.5 or something else entirely.

Briefly, the problem I had with the "lost" disk space was caused by Flashback saving a complete copy of every version of my scans and not in any way related to Grammarian. As a result of the hard drive space problems and the diagnostic work I had to do to uncover the source of this problem, I did a complete backup, wiped my drive, reformatted in HFS+ and installed 8.5. Here is where a very ironic problem involving Grammarian occurred.

Figure 1

Figure 1

OS 8.5 problems

I started with extensions off to install Grammarian after reformatting the hard drive. That went fine; Grammarian informed me that the install was successful and it would like to be restarted. Okay, I could do that -- or could I? I experienced a rare startup conflict. Since I had Conflict Catcher (CC) 8.04 installed and the only two extensions enabled were CC 8.04 and Grammarian (both Casady & Greene [C & G] products), it was an ironic "no-brainer." Just to be sure, I ran the entire conflict test and sure enough, CC 8.04 agreed that Grammarian was the culprit. Okay, I'll just mosey on over to the TCS to look for an update. It was Saturday at noon, and the TCS was still down for maintenance. What about the C & G web site? Remote Access (PPP) crashed and couldn't be opened!?!? Huh? It had been working just fine. I redid all the diagnostic tests that I had done after the conflict problem. Disk First Aid and Norton Disk Doctor 4.01 still insisted none of their kids did anything wrong or broke anything. Nothing else to do except trash the Remote Access preferences file and reinstall the TCS Explorer script; still didn't work. Remote Access was accessible but not responsive. It was pretty obvious that the script installation didn't connect all the pieces.

Figure 2

Figure 2

After several more tries, I confirmed with some Pi members that despite the TCS still being down, Explorer was operative. I finally got a good script and connected online. C & G had an update that would improve the 8.5 compatibility. Downloaded it with no problems, restarted with extensions off to reinstall Grammarian (I had removed it after the conflict and during the TCS Explorer problem). Learning from experience, I used the space bar to stop the restart with extensions on so I could turn off Grammarian until after I installed the update. That's when I realized I had to restart with the extensions off to install the update. Got the update installed and instead of the successful installation message, I got an "error in installation" message. Tried to unstuff the download and reinstall it only to get the same error message. At this point, I cried "Uncle." Once I have a chance to consult with C & G about what happened, I'll tell you the rest of the story. For now, I will report my experience with Grammarian working happily on OS 8.1.

Figure 3


Grammarian comes preconfigured with many options set for the most common software applications that would need grammar checking. If you have an application that is not preconfigured, you can add that to the Grammarian menu quite easily. Grammarian can also check for many levels of grammar styles, chosen by the user to suit the particular style of writing of a document. For instance, you would want a more formal style for business correspondence than for a story about a little boy who lived on the Mississippi River and ran away from home only to have a series of adventures.

Figure 4

Figure 4

One of the features I like in Grammarian is the mini editor window in which it lists the errors found, the text containing the error and an option to correct the error in that window instead of having to track down the sentence yourself. This is especially useful when you are using the noninteractive (silent) mode ("Check all Grammar," Fig. 1) and proofreading an entire document. Even better is the fact that the "error" window is corrected and updated immediately, so you are sure the correction has been made. Included in the documentation for Grammarian are sample documents for use as a tutorial. These documents were created with specific errors chosen to demonstrate all of the errors that Grammarian can detect and analyze correctly. Notice the check mark in Fig. 2 in the "Sentence" window. This shows the precise place of the error. In the "Correction" window, Grammarian cites the defining criteria for this error, explains the cure and offers to do it for you in return for a "click."

Figure 5

Grammarian can be used with C & G's SpellCatcher for a thorough proofreading approach; but even though Grammarian is not a spell checker, it catches many spelling-related errors that are made as a consequence of the wrong word for the context (Fig. 3). Figure 4 shows the odd look to the correct spelling caused by incorrect capitalization. While time has taken its toll on my use of proper English, I thought I had heard all of the forms of modifier that existed until I saw the one illustrated in Fig. 5. Never before had I heard of a "squinting modifier." I knew it as a misplaced adverb, but I like "squinting modifier" better. It immediately engages my curiosity, making it more remarkable thus more "rememberable." (Hey, if they can change the names and make up words, so can I!)

Figure 6

Grammarian is certainly no shrinking violet; check out the shameless plug they sneak into Fig. 6. All of the changes that are made in the "sentence" editor are held in RAM until you either reach the end of a document or quit the sentence editor. At that time you will be asked if you want to write the corrections to the document. An affirmative response initiates a "save to disk" function, thereby inscribing the changes in the document permanently or until they are changed again (Fig. 7). If you have a very large document with a lot of errors, it would be a good idea to stop occasionally and protect the changes already made from the computer poltergeists.

Figure 7

I found the Grammarian writing rules preference window rather interesting (Fig. 8). It made me realize how much time has passed, as I saw phrases I have not seen in many years; more importantly, I have not heard the pleasantness of correctly spoken and written language for many years. I wondered just how many people would remember some of these phrases. Would there be enough to prevent them (the phrases, not the people) from becoming anachronisms? I confess to finding a few "modern" terms that stopped me in my tracks as I pondered them. I felt like I had been sleeping not for Rip Van Winkle's 100 years but definitely for 25 or more.

Figure 8

Figure 8


The user has many levels of choice in fashioning the perfect voice for his/her writing. I was amazed at the care the application's author had exercised to make this a fully personalized utility. Normally, utility applications don't offer a lot of choices. Everything is so straightforward. Grammarian reminded me of how flexibly inflexible or inflexibly flexible language really is. In the process of musing on this, I ran right into the visual epitome of what I was thinking about; it was almost like Jeffrey Robbins, the author, had read my mind and let me run right smack into the sound controls. I had been reflecting on all the choices that could still be made for all the inflexibility of English at times, and there in front of me was the perfect visual representation of that thought -- all of the "thermometer" bar controls for sound effects. Not only could you choose the grammar rules you wanted to obey, you could compose your own sounds to go with the mood of the document being written. With all the controls you are given, you could write a "Concerto for Words" if you created a different sound for each rule and remembered to make enough errors that went uncorrected to hear the song (Fig. 9). As if that were not enough, there is another customizable menu box to create keyboard shortcuts or macros (Fig. 10). What else can they think of to add, I wondered. Then I found it -- statistics. Everyone has to throw statistics into everything possible. But what do statistics really have to do with grammar? Somebody somewhere at sometime was so bored that he (yes, "he") created a table showing how the words used in a document would dictate what kind of person would read that document. Nothing about the art of writing, nothing about how interesting the subject was, nothing about anything except counting and crunching numbers!

Fig. 9a

Figure 9b

Figure 9a

Figure 9b

Remember all the songs that sound like they are over but there's another brief coda? At the definitely last minute, Jeffrey throws in one last customizable feature for "Advanced Users." I'm not going to tell you what it is. You have to find it for yourself. Here's a hint -- power users will probably love it.

Figure 10

Figure 10


Overall, what parts of Grammarian I used with OS 8.1, I really liked -- the choices, explanations, and other features have the potential to release and polish creativity in writing. Whether it does or not will depend on the writer's perspective. Does he see the glass as half empty or half full? One thing is sure: no one can honestly say they were stuffed into a rigid grammatically correct mold, not when they have this many choices to customize Grammarian.

Figure 11

Figure 11

I will be very unhappy if I have to choose between OS 8.5 and Grammarian because I feel Grammarian has the power to elevate the ordinary writer into a great writer by offering options, suggestions and opportunities for the writer to expand his language skills and tailor his use of language to target specific interest groups. Based on C & G's history of solid software, I suspect the problems I experience were unusual and perhaps even limited to me. If my discussions with them disclose anything that will affect the quality I have seen in Grammarian and in their other products, I will write a follow-up to this review. In the meantime, if you have OS 8.1 or lower installed, download a demo copy of Grammarian from the C & G web site. While you're there, get a free copy of Sherlock Assistant for a friend who has OS 8.5 installed.

How it works (for the curious)

The natural language grammar checker developed by Linguisoft differs from existing grammar checkers on the market in several ways. Today, grammar checkers use a series of heuristics or pattern matching to flag problems in a sentence. Grammarian uses natural language processing to parse sentences at a deeper logical level. Using state-of-the-art natural language processing techniques, the grammar checker first builds a complete analysis (parse) of the syntax of the sentence and then analyzes the sentence by looking at the relationships of actions and the people or things that are involved in those actions. By doing this, natural language processing provides the foundation for the grammar checker eventually to be able to understand the meaning of words in a sentence. Because of these techniques, Grammarian can more accurately detect and correct grammatical and stylistic errors.


Tested on


Casady & Greene, Inc.
22734 Portola Drive
Salinas, CA 93908-1119
USA Direct Sales 1-800-359-4920
Fax: 831-484-9218

Mary is a freelance graphic arts/craft designer and teacher in the Washington Metro area and an active member of the Washington Apple Pi. Questions, suggestions, requests, tips, comments and feedback can be emailed to: e.mkeene@tcs.wap.org.


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Revised April 11, 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/