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Is Grammarly a keylogger? What can you do about it? (kolide.com)
464 points by terracatta on Feb 25, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 293 comments

Years ago I worked at a company where many people were using Grammarly. One of the top devs took a look at it, and saw that the text was sent to Grammarly's server unencrypted and warned everyone not to use it. Some still did.

At my previous engagement, a large number of staff spoke English as a second or third language, and Grammarly was prevalent. Even as a native English speaker, they wanted me to use it as a sort of proof reader. I'll admit that it caught some of my dumber mistakes, but I never felt comfortable using it. I could have proof-read my work better is all. Perhaps if I wasn't given mind-numbing work, the quality would have been better.

My previous role was at a public facing ecommerce site. One day I started noticing a lot of public traffic to internal administrative endpoints that were failing - likely bots, but also to URLs that bots would have never known existed. Urls that only someone internal to the company would even know existed, due to the complex way they were crafted. It was very concerning.

We spent a LOT of time tracking down, and finally realized that the "bot" traffic was coming about 30 minutes after one of our employees legitimated visited the site. We found that user was using grammarly. Once we deactivated grammarly, all of the bot traffic stopped.

As best as I could tell, every URL that particular person went to in their browsers, grammarly had a service about 30 minutes later that would try and hit the url directly and ascertain what was there.

Haven't been on the crusade against it ever since.

Did something like grammarly attempt to correct your post here?

>Haven't been on the crusade against it ever since.

You have been or you haven't been? It sounds like a contradictory statement from the rest of your comment.

Because of the proven URL visiting bot, they don't have to. Everyone understands it's not an idle threat that Grammarly snoops on everything you write.

Why is Grammarly keeping track of the urls you visit when it has nothing to do with checking your grammar?

Are you writing blog posts or message board comments? Are you on social media? Writing to one person or many? Are you writing for financial, health, tourist industries, or for your academic qualifications? To entertain, persuade or inform? A screenshot of the page can be reviewed and classified later.

All to improve the service, of course. You know, what they say in the privacy policy.

(Note: I have no insider information)

We can only speculate but I notice Grammarly has a feature for plagiarism detection[0].

> Ensure your work is fresh and original by checking it against 16 billion web pages.

How do they know what text is on 16B web pages? Presumably they have a web crawler of some sort.

[0] https://www.grammarly.com/plans

>Presumably they have a web crawler of some sort.

Can confirm. Caught one of their bots on my site and called them out about it on Twitter.

They did not respond.

> Ensure your work is fresh and original

The page linked doesn't contain the text.

On a desktop browser, click the "Plagiarism detected" benefit under one of the plans - the text will show up as a tool tip.

That alone doesn't indicate they collected the 16 billion documents themselves, of course.

I mostly wonder how? Is it an extension or program? I thought it was just a website where you can paste in a text-box for proof reading, and that sort of website shouldn't be able to track you everywhere afterwards, right?

It’s also a browser extension and extension for things like Microsoft Word.

I think it’s fine if you use the website with information you don’t mind sharing but their extensions are reading everything you write.

Perhaps another site that person visited frequently was stealing their Grammarly auth token with this bug? https://bugs.chromium.org/p/project-zero/issues/detail?id=15...

> "Haven't been on the crusade against it ever since."

haven't -> have, right?

I believe they mean that the abuse was so blatantly obvious that they didn't have to argue the case anymore.

> wanted me to use it as a sort of proof reader.

I can't imagine working in a place like this. I often write with some unusual but perfectly valid grammar constructions that are a result of being well read. Running what I've written, the codification of my thoughts, through a statistical homogenization machine is dystopian in a way I had never imagined. What kind of business was it?

Imagine running famous writers through this thing, even if they're just journalists. Gross. I'm gonna run Moby Dick through Grammarly later and see what it has to say.

While I don't use Grammarly, this doesn't strike me as a very fair description of what grammar checkers are meant to do. Just like spellcheckers, they only make the changes you let them make. If you blindly accept every suggestion they make, then yes, I suppose you're running your text "through a statistical homogenization machine," but that's even more foolish than blindly accepting every suggestion a spellchecker makes.

I do use a "grammar and style check" built into Ulysses fairly frequently, even on fiction. This is a server-side service like Grammarly, but without the keylogging-ish aspects. (It only works in Ulysses, and you have to explicitly go into "revision mode" and click the "Check Text" button.) And, sure, it's optimized for business writing and is going to make a lot of dumb suggestions. But not all the suggestions are dumb; it really does catch genuine mistakes and even make style suggestions worth considering (e.g., "the phrase here is so overused it's in our database as an overused phrase, so are you sure you want to use it"). And, of course, sometimes I really am writing something for business, and some of the suggestions that are superfluous in creative writing might actually be useful.

I don't like Grammarly's approach explicitly because of the "send everything to Grammarly in the background", but I think people write off style checkers as pointless a little too quickly. Even the stupidest grammar checker, like the one built into macOS (sorry, Apple), will catch things like inadvertently doubled words, which is something I'm prone to do when I pause in the middle of writing a sentence to collect my thoughts.

> I do use a "grammar and style check" built into Ulysses fairly frequently,

I parsed this sentence as you running Grammarly on the novel by James Joyce, which would be an interesting experiment given that Joyce deliberately changes his style and grammar to mimic famous authors of the day, sometimes mid-sentence.

I have a strong suspicion Ulysses would fail miserably checking Ulysses. :)

> I often write with some unusual but perfectly valid grammar constructions that are a result of being well read.

That's lovely for you. It sounds like you're very clever. However, most writing in the workplace is intended to communicate concrete ideas, and benefits more from clarity than cleverness.

That doesn't have to mean, and in fact should NOT mean, bland.

I think one of the important things you should be thinking about is whether (given your complexity is already tripping up automated tools) it will start tripping up your coworkers.

Yes. Bland is better than "unusual but perfectly valid grammar" any day of the week.

Grammar checkers flag more than "invalid" grammar. Historically lots of arbitrary rules have been improperly applied to English to make it seem like a classical language. I like to enable checks for passive voice but completely eliminating it creates a stilted result and isn't practical, especially in technical writing. These tools are guide. I am free to ignore its advice when I know better.

... and yet you used an expression that seems unnecessarily idiomatic and parochial (British right?). I can easily imagine someone in Asia struggling to fit that literal expression to your intended meaning.

>> any day of the week

Bland poetry is bad.

Bland biz comms are not only acceptable but preferred.

Bland is boring and boring documents tend not to be read.

Succinct writing with some humor or at least some character to it will actually get that functional spec read.

Joe Spolsky wrote a good piece on this topic: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2000/10/02/painless-functiona...

Sense of humor?

1) humor? it's subjective

2) you better be spot on because humor can easily be misinterpreted.

3) along the same lines, it's likely not everyone reading will be of the same native language and/or culture. Humor will likely marginalize them.

4) Frank Luntz "Words That Work". Chapter 1 is comms evergreen gold.


Bland is forgettable. You don't want important biz comms to be forgotten. Bland doesn't spark thought in the reader. Clarity is achievable without being bland

You're talking about copy writing. That's different than peer to peer biz comms.

I hear clever and I think of the scene from Fight Club. Clever is not something good.


I hate to break it to you, but you’re not writing Moby Dick at your office job. You’re trying to communicate a (possibly complex) idea in a way that another person can understand it and make a decision.

> Running what I've written, the codification of my thoughts, through a statistical homogenization machine is dystopian in a way I had never imagined.

This is why Grammarly exists.

And if you can't do it without Grammarly, maybe you shouldn't have that job.

My dude. I have worked with quite a few really smart engineers whose grasp on the English language was imperfect, though quite capable of communicating most points well enough. I would prefer it if I could take a little less time in my code reviews on copy editing, doing things like fixing plurality disagreements and false cognates.

An algorithm is isn't going to be able to clear up miscommunication more accurately than the person who receives the message.

How long did you test Grammarly before coming to that conclusion?

Even if Grammarly was forwarding its data to humans for manual correction, they still wouldn't have the whole context or industry-specific knowledge the person on the receiving end has. And even GPT3 isn't at this level.

It's the classic case of removing all of the apparent errors which then results in the downstream system underestimating the actual quantity of errors in the source and thus not being vigilant for more critical errors. Sure, it makes people look better to their colleagues, but what happens when they need to communicate in person, or in cases like mistaken context for double negative? The receiver will be so impressed with the level of communication they receive that they won't expect basic errors might be made.

Safe to assume that because you dodged the question you spent 0 time testing Grammarly?

The question is irrelevant because OP's not about grammar accuracy or comprehensibility but about domain expertise. Grammarly has no idea what you're talking about, only how. It tries to get around this with the web-scraper activity mentioned elsewhere in comments but obviously that's a bad way to do it for many reasons.

It’s fairly clear they misunderstand the domain:

> An algorithm is isn't going to be able to clear up miscommunication more accurately than the person who receives the message.

The whole point isn’t accuracy. Grammarly improves the clarity and accuracy of the message so another person doesn’t have to. The recipient can focus on the message, not applying their superior ability to clear up miscommunications.

So, I tend to agree with you. Whether or not this person has tested Grammarly is somewhat irrelevant because they clearly don’t understand why it exists.

Yeah, I'm looking at this and perhaps it's useful to distinguish absolutely useless from of limited use.

My guess is -- the improvement one might get from using Grammarly might be equivalent to "a faster version of, let me read a BUNCH of examples of similar writings to spark an idea of a better way to say a thing?"

In other words, it feels like the thing that Grammarly might be useful for probably lean "syntactical" over "meaningful?" Something like that.

Miscommunication destroys productivity and in the worst cases ruins end products by corrupting the development cycle.

Ultimately an organizational problem but I gotta say it gets very peeving to write 5 different solutions to the same ask because the other person is careless with their words.

Odd, I thought I responded elsewhere with this point -- but yes, I'd refine my point by saying Grammarly is probably a bad idea for internal communication, but perhaps fine where writing is the product.

And if you can’t code without Google, maybe you shouldn’t have that job.

Tools exist to help us. Use them.

> I hate to break it to you, but you’re not writing Moby Dick at your office job.

What if he does? Do you like generalization?

Read his writing. Moby Dick isn’t coming out of his keyboard unless he’s retyping it.

You're missing the value-prop of Grammarly -- to help someone who doesn't know write more like a fluent native English speaker. Helping someone write "more average" is exactly the point until they're fluent enough to know when and how to break the rules.

Wait until you find out about the 5 paragraph essay that's taught in HS that follows this model.

> who doesn't know write

In my experience it doesn't.

It helps people who are already reasonable good at writing English to write slightly better. Through only if their writing is limited to "business" English.

For e.g. papers it's in my experience a catastrophe.

There are also multiple categories of errors it can't cope with and does bad recommendation for. It's the kinda of errors I'm doing a lot. Maybe due to having some dyslexia, maybe because it's my second language, or maybe because my brain thinks slightly different (not joking; Luckily it's just different, not worse.).

Ten years ago I went back to school and finished my BS. All of the instructors required us to run our work through a plagiarism checker and certify that it was our original work when turned in. The plagiarism checker was part of a suite of tools that included a grammar checker, and some instructors used the grammar checker themselves when grading student work.

I always viewed the grammar checker as a crutch and only used it when required, but some students I worked with on team projects were obsessed with getting no warnings from the grammar check. There were a few ESL students that produced almost unintelligible work that had passed grammar check, and they argued with me when I tried to help them.

My best experience was when one instructor ran my work through the grammar check and then sent me the graded paper (A) which included his long critique of the changes the grammar checker had recommended.

> You're missing the value-prop of Grammarly -- to help someone who doesn't know write more like a fluent native English speaker.

That's not a part of the value of Grammarly. The tool is going to recommend mistakes; if you can't recognize them, then it will hurt you a lot more than it helps.

   I can't imagine working in a place like this. 
I couldn't either. I don't work there anymore.

> Imagine running famous writers through this thing, even if they're just journalists. Gross.

Try comparing the text of a Great Illustrated Classic book to the text of the actual book it "adapts".

The goal is not to make famous writers write like journalists. It is to make people who struggle with writing write at the level of journalists.

I only know this company as the annoying YouTube pre-roll ad company. Any company that needs to advertise on YouTube that heavily raises red flags, IMO. Not surprising to hear they are cretins. For what purpose do they use the keylogging data. Doubtful they tell their customers all the exact details. "We use the data to improve the service." Gimme a break.

I'm starting to form a really negative impression of YouTube ads as well. Lots of scammy stuff all over the place. I'm kind of intrigued by all the "This young scientist invented ...", "This single father came up with a solution that his boss wouldn't give freedom to explore and so he broke out on his own to improve the world...". All these thin and exceptionally vague human interest stories filled with anonymous non-identifying biographical information leading up to some purported great product.

At first I was fooled by those productions since they had some non-zero amount of polish to them that looking back I realize is professional stock footage of some kind. Now I know it's junk faceless import products pretty much that are being peddled. There's a whole genre to them and it's funny now to see past them immediately when they appear, but irritating too.

Who still sees YouTube ads (or any ad for that matter) on todays web? I’m thinking anyone using the web without an adblocker is either a masochist or a fervent disciple of the “adtech” industry.

"Who still sees YouTube ads (or any ad for that matter) on today's web?"

Someone testing homegrown methods of blocking online advertising traffic on their own network.

I never see ads except when testing. I do not use an adblocker for downloading and watching YouTube videos. I use methods that work outside the browser. Adblockers require "modern", graphical web browsers.

"Modern", graphical web browsers are funded by online advertising.

I do not require a browser for accessing YouTUbe.

So, both of my phones have the following keyboard option:

"Suggest text corrections

Tap words or phrases underlined in green or tap the more menu icon when you see a green dot, to review grammar and writing suggestions.

Powered by Grammarly"

Does this mean that if I have text correction turned on while using the keyboard on my phone, because it is "powered by grammarly", it will be sending unencrypted information to Grammarly?

Personally, I couldn't care less if some giant company is reading my information, but I don't want that transmission being sent unencrypted.

Edit: I should mention that this is not an app that I have installed on my phone. This is literally just the text prediction for my keyboard by default.

Looks like Samsung is adding the Grammarly functionality to their built-in (still an app, technically) keyboard in an upcoming update, or they already have.

So now, very likely, both Samsung and Grammarly have access to everything you type on your phone.

Thankfully there's a few open source keyboards.

I've been checking out FlorisBoard, available on fdroid. Sadly, Google and Samsung keyboards are very good at swype/glide, FlorisBoard is coming along though, & I prefer to support it because the other two can't be trusted.

Both phones I was referencing were Samsung devices.

Do you know that grammarly keeps this information and doesn't toss it after it's AI looks for patterns for training?

I'm not aware of any actual AI system for NL using on-line training -- this unlabeled, after all! So "after it looks for patterns" is more "after the next training batch runs", 30 days if they're GDPR compliant.

Yes, all your text is being sent to Grammarly servers. It's done over HTTPS, so no third party can see what you type in, only you and Grammarly see your texts.

That's really bad actually. Especially if they are storing it away in a database associated with your unique ID for surveillance for 3rd party companies and the government.

Hmm, so if I understand things correctly: The means of transmitting that information is (supposed to be) secure, but the information within it - if the means of transmission (HTTPS) is compromised in any way - means a third party would then be able to read that information. Right?

Yes and grammarly obviously reads it, since it works over the Internet. Do they store it? Probably not but read their TOS and obviously you have to trust them as well.

Why wouldn’t they store it? That’s a good mine of information in many different ways (product improvement, upselling, ad targeting, etc)

…until there is a security breach at grammarly

I feel like I can't function without it. Grammar mistakes can be seen very badly by others. If only being able to understand the other person was sufficient.

Grammarly has become a crutch and I am having a hard time finding an alternative.

This is my method to write grammar sensitive content -

- Write initial draft in notepad

- Review the document

- Paste content into grammarly

- Review their suggestions

- Review the content one last time.

I just couldn't find anything that is non obtrusive and secure.

Edit: I read through the article. My method seems to be the most secure way to use grammarly. But I am deleting the extension and the app.

I've been using ProWritingAid instead of Grammarly. They have discount deals every once in a while, incl the Lifetime sub.

I have a relative with severe dyslexia who is a native English speaker. I wonder if grammarly could help him, even with things like spelling, too.

It does, it's not just that though, it also helps with picking the right words and phrases for your target audience and what type if a message you are writing.

Feedback loops? In my product copy?

What does it even offer that MS Word doesn't? Word has all sorts of grammar and style checking.

The obvious one: integration with every text box on your system.

Which is exactly the very very scary prospect of the thing. Giving Word this ability while using Word makes sense. Giving some other software access to 100% of everything that occurs on the system is very unnerving. <shudder>

For all the years that I used Word, its grammar checker used incorrect rules for when to use "which" and "that".

This issue may be fixed now, but I would never trust a grammar checker with such a lousy track record for basic issues like which/that.

Doesn't HTTPS encrypt your traffic to Grammarly's server?

Why would that matter? The traffic is encrypted in transit but still received as unencrypted plain text by Grammarly.

> the text was sent to Grammarly's server unencrypted

What does this mean exactly? That they were using HTTP instead of HTTPS, or some custom unencrypted format?

It may have nothing to do with the protocol. It can mean that everything Grammarly receives, no matter how transmitted, is unencrypted, in the same sense that this comment I sent to HN is. Of course this makes sense, but I think the difference is in the expectation of what is and isn't sent.

Years ago, you used something else instead of Grammarly.

I think worse than keyloggers is that people are learning how to make the yellow lines in Grammarly go away rather than learning to write better. The training of humans on AI which was trained to be a (dull) average of prior humans has unforeseen consequences. I've seen Google grammar suggestions getting worse with time.

This may be the case, but "this tool is a potentially massive privacy and security intrusion" is a drastically different conversation than "calculators mean students can't do arithmetic anymore".

I think "calculators mean students can't do arithmetic anymore" is perhaps an uncharitable take because it ignores that calculators aren't also trying to learn arithmetic from examples of people using them. Eventually grammar correction algorithms will injest text written with them or other grammar correction algorithms as ground truth in their efforts to improve and adapt to new idioms- this may already be the case.

NLP researchers are tearing their hair out about this right now, since people are posting mountains of GPT/etc.-generated text online with no easy way to distinguish whether it's of human or other origin.

Reminds me of a scifi book where the Internet-analogue is so corrupted with junk deliberately injected by filtering services so that they can sell you the filters that it's impossible to use "naked".

I think it's either Neal Stephenson or maybe Stephen Baxter, but I'm not sure which book it was an aside in (it's not Fall, I haven't read that yet, though that appears to have a similar idea).

I guess we're entering a new phase of language evolution, then; whether we want it or not.

Maybe we should create a neural network model that could label arbitrary text as -- nah!

That's a Gan but with more steps right?

Well... you can read it.

I might be wrong, but so far I think it's been pretty easy to tell if text came from a human or a deep-learning system.

Granted, that probably doesn't scale well.

That has been true up until very recently, but lately there has emerged an uncanny valley that has confused the distinction between "underpaid freelance (ESL) writer farm" and "shoddy but roughly convincing neural language model" so that you may be convinced the blogspam you may happen upon across the internet may just as easily be computer-generated as anything else.

If GPT-3 et al. are producing results on par with "underpaid freelance (ESL) writer farm" then wouldn’t the next step be to focus only on better writing? i.e. books, newspapers, magazines, etc.

Obviously the corpus (perhaps 1 trillion to to 10 trillion words?) will be exhausted by a sufficiently large model so there’s an upper bound.

Okay, interesting.

Thanks for sharing!

Most, not all.

This sounds like a case of "garbage in garbage out". Machine learning needs to account for that regardless.

Writing and arithmetic are a lot different. Activities involving math are very rarely done away from a phone, and computers are for all intents and purposes 100% reliable at it.

The best mathematician in the world will probably get the same answer I will on a calculator. At most maybe I'll get an irrelevant rounding error.

If there was only one good way to state any idea, no matter the context or intent, it would be different.

I could choose not to use grammarly if I had something to hide, with little trouble. It doesn't do anything most can't do themselves, or anything a local FOSS checker can't do once browsers start integrating them as they probably will someday.

The real danger would be a world in which I can't legally choose not to use it or for some other reason it is no longer a free choice.

Is journalism not part of how we prevent that?

This is comparable to the argument that programmers are learning how to eliminate compiler/linter warnings rather than learning how to program better. Immediate feedback is the best learning tool and one leads to the other. Of course, natural languages are far more complex and have no universal standard. While it is true that no easy way to check for style, be it in programming or writing, we should encourage the use of such tools (once they are secure and privacy-friendly) as writing assistants.

No, it’s comparable to your compiler/linter suggesting fixes when it spots issues. Pointing out an error is one level of knowledge, suggesting a fix is not in the same class. Take away the grammar tools’ ability to make suggestions, and you have something equivalent. You still have to know how to math/program with a calculator/compiler.

I couldn't agree more. Every now and then I let gmail auto complete for me, but it feels like my writing is just becoming generic.

Yet, I've used the same closing line for my emails for years. And Gmail still doesn't suggest it as completion.

"AI powered".

English is not my first language. Grammarly greatly improved my English, even when I'm not using it.

One of the beat ways to tell really peoficient foreign speaker of, in my case, German isn't the accent (as some people don't have one anymore) but a too perfect Grammar usage, either in writing (less obvious) or speaking (clear as day). I yried one of the German grammar tests of my son, and failed miserable, despite being a native speaker. My wife isn't, and she's so much better in German grammar then I am.

The gist: Don't worry too mich, just use the language. Most people are than delighted to meet a foreigner trying to speak their language.

"Perfect grammar usage" is only a negative when you have "perfect grammar knowledge", whatever that means. I'm actually knowledgeable enough to to be more spontaneous if I want. In reality I only use Grammarly on the desktop, which is only a tiny fraction of my usage of the English language. Things are not as black and white as they seem. I'm neither a child nor a robot.

It's the same with English. Maybe it's confirmation bias, but I've noticed many non-native speakers either write too formally, or choose the wrong synonym for the context. Everything is grammatically correct, but it just feels wrong.

Non native speakers are generally more formal regardless of their usage of formal. I'm autistic so I'm highly formal in my native language as well!

My wife told me that when she was studying Russian in college, some of the professors in the advanced courses would refer to certain phrasings as the "spy's variant."

You might be worrying a bit too much about what others think. I am English and if someone is, say, Russian, and writes to me in English, I don't care if their grammar is a little poor. The great thing about English is you can understand even when most of the words are in the wrong order :-)

Also, most English people don't know much about grammar anyway and lots of people still confuse things like there/their/they're; are/our; its/it's etc.

I think you skip the case when both communicating parties are not native speakers which is probably much more often case than when at least one side knows English well. And risk related to a misunderstanding caused by breaking grammar rules is much higher.

Also if you're not native speaker how do you know if the computer's suggestion is an improvement or a regression?

It is possible to have relevant knowledge in languages that are not your own.

Totally agree, we already have a generation of folks who don't know how to spell without the crutch of a spell-checker (I include myself as a victim), does Grammarly produce even worse outcomes?

The one caveat here (which I try to cover in this post) is there are definitely people who suffer from things like dyslexia who heavily rely on these types of tools to be able to communicate confidently. In that way, they are very useful.

Even worse: entirely new language primitives based on 10wpm mobile keyboards.

Despite the moral panic over the OG mobile keyboards in the noughties (remember the breathless "kids these days write txt spk, m8 in their English exams" headlines every year?), the pandemic of inability to "write good" never actually materialised among Millenials.

Indeed, it has been suggested that reductions like "wait" to "w8" even represent the same kind of phonological awareness of language that's correlated with better spelling.

The same thing happened in the 19th century when coded abbreviations to save money on telegrams became a fad and infected everyday writing. Newspapers and periodicals both celebrated and decried them. Civilization didn't collapse. TTFN.

Well WWI happened towards the very end of the telegraph age, so civilisation did collapse.

What could be more civilised than murdering thousands at a time with science (e.g. gas attacks and aviation)?

I mean "txt" speak is something only my parents still use. There are some shortenings like omw, ngl, ikr but they're not inventing new words.

I mean hell if this is the straw than the internet ruined that before I was born -- tldr, imho, afaik, mfw, /s.

Heh, now it's just emojis and memes for communication.

does it actually matter that people don't all the grammar rules or how to spell things? an english sentence contains a lot of parity data. when you do know all the rules, it can be painful to see the mistakes people make, but confusing "principle" with "principal" or using "who" when you should have used "whom" doesn't really obscure the meaning of the sentence.

when it comes to formal correspondence, spellcheck is always there to help. or better yet, get a copywriter or technical writer to help you and go back to your main responsibilities.

> does it actually matter that people don't all the grammar rules or how to spell things?

It does if you hold the view that teaching someone to speak and write is teaching them them think.

If that is correct than if someone does not know how to speak and write in a grammatically correct fashion then the implication is that they do not know how to think properly.

Even if there isn't a perfect 1to1 mapping between grammatically correct writing and thinking skills, I still think it's a good proxy for measuring a persons ability to think because in general the more you read, the better you get at writing, and the more you read, the more you know.*

* the traditional caveats apply with garbage in, garbage out.

> It does if you hold the view that teaching someone to speak and write is teaching them *them think*.

> If that is correct *than* if someone does not know how to speak and write in a grammatically correct fashion then the implication is that they do not know how to think properly.

And you immediately defeat yourself with your own argument.

Nobody ever has, nor should strive to, follow every grammatical rule perfectly. Errors only matter if they create actual ambiguity; if you understand my intent, then I have used language effectively.

As human thought evolves, language should too. Poets are always breaking rules in the name of art, and many of those changes get codified as new rules. Shakespeare simply made up dozens of words that we use today without a second thought. Over the last decade, modern poets steeped in the culture of sarcasm have given the word "literally" a new meaning. Those deviations and inventions made sense, both to the speakers and listeners, so new words, rules, and understandings were created. The only people left confused are the prescriptionists who cling to outdated rules that describe how people used to talk.

As long as humans can turn these AI assistants off and share their imperfect creativity, I'm not too concerned.

> Nobody ever has, nor should strive to, follow every grammatical rule perfectly.

Actually, this is untrue; people automatically follow the rules of their language with extreme accuracy. They don't "strive" only in that following the rules doesn't involve any conscious effort.

This is behind the principle articulated for HTML of "be strict in what you emit and liberal in what you accept". That is how people behave when speaking. But it's not something they're capable of doing in HTML, and trying to apply it there was a mistake.

> Errors only matter if they create actual ambiguity; if you understand my intent, then I have used language effectively.

This isn't right either, in a couple of more serious ways:

First, ambiguity is always present regardless of whether any errors have been made or not. A fun example of ambiguity I noticed recently is "Flemish is more influenced by French than Dutch". Perfect grammar, but the two obvious parses have opposite meanings. Ambiguity arising from a grammatical error is no more serious than ambiguity arising from a lack of errors.

Second, the major problem with failing to follow the grammar of a language is that it prevents your audience from knowing whether they understand you or not. One thing I can say if you speak to me in broken English is that you aren't aware of the rules of English. Given that, even your apparently flawless sentences might have been intended to mean something quite different from what they would mean if spoken by an English speaker.

> Actually, this is untrue; people automatically follow the rules of their language with extreme accuracy. They don't "strive" only in that following the rules doesn't involve any conscious effort.

You can't possibly be serious! If this view is based on your real-life experience then I am amazed at the rarefied circles to which you belong.


- Nationwide, on average, 79% of U.S. adults are literate in 2022.

- 21% of adults in the US are illiterate in 2022.

- 54% of adults have a literacy below 6th grade level.

- 34% of adults who lack proficiency in literacy were born outside the US.

Based on these stats, you can rest assured that at least half of the adults in the United States do not have perfect grammar. And although "proficiency" is not precisely defined, I think it's safe to assume that a majority of these low-literacy adults are native speakers.

> If this view is based on your real-life experience then I am amazed

How much effort did it take you to select the form 'am' in 'I am amazed' while selecting 'is' in 'this view is based'?

When's the last time you heard anyone make a mistake in conjugating be?

That's what a grammatical rule looks like.

People always be conjugating "be" incorrectly. It's actually hallmark of a very common English dialect, which people speak and understand all the time without issue:


> if you understand my intent, then I have used language effectively.

I'll agree as far as it goes, but it ignores the burden of understanding on the the part of your interlocutor.

Have you ever been in a conversation where either you or the other party didn't speak the language well? It is a strain on all parties, even if sufficient information was transmitted and understood. I might consider this merely sufficient or barely "effective". I'd hope we aim for clearly expressing oneself without causing strain on your conversation partner or reader.

A good deal of what people quibble over regarding "grammar" has more to do with good style (whatever that means to you -- proper use of less/fewer, who/whom, capitalization and punctuation, etc) and achieving a certain verbal register.

You're not even wrong.

> It does if you hold the view that teaching someone to speak and write is teaching them them think.

I don't hold that view. at least, I don't think effective communication requires mastering the formal rules of a natural language. I'm not even sure communication itself is that closely tied to complex thought. I've known a few brilliant engineers whose english was barely sufficient for work. perhaps they were quite elegant in their native tongues; I wouldn't be able to say.

> I'm not even sure communication itself is that closely tied to complex thought.

I think it does in some respect; our language's grammar and vocabulary litteraly govern the way we see the world, after all[1]. As a personal anecdote, I'm ESL and write as a hobby, both in my native language and English, and I do feel the differences (and limitations) in the way my mind works depending on language.

I know that my inadequacies in English mean that my style is different. Descriptions and reasonings are simpler. In my native language, I can easily use word plays, ambiguities, be bolder and "more clever" (or less stupid :p). In English, I unconsciously keep things less complex. I'm a different author, and so the worlds I describe in my texts are simpler, too.

English is also far more "pragmatic" than my birth language. I can't word things the same way. Thus, my thinking as an "English writer" is far more rational and cause-to-effect-ish.

It's like any tool: you can absolutely use a programming language through tutorial and google searches, but you have to truly master it to really understand its concepts, to really use it to do something cleverly and intelligently -- and you won't plan a complex task the very same way in two different programming languages.

[1] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110314132531.h...

does it actually matter that people don't all the grammar rules or how to spell things?

Does it matter if someone does not write with perfect grammar and spelling? Probably not.

However at some point you have drifted so far from normal conventions that you are no longer communicating effectively. You can make reasonable arguments about both prescriptivism and descriptivism but if your spelling and grammar are so bad that someone can't understand you then you're not a descriptivist, you're just wrong.

I have encountered this more often than I'd like in professional settings. I work in software development, a field where precision is important, so if I'm looking at your job application and it's full of basic language errors then I absolutely will judge you for that.

Yes, clarity and grammar matter. For example, with your lack of capitalization, I wouldn't know if you were trying to help your Uncle Jack off a horse or your uncle jack off a horse.

Though no one has ever written either of those sentences for any reason other than to put up a strawman to tear down in their defense of grammar.

I'm a fan of learning grammar well, to be clear, and wish mine were better, but this is not a good argument for grammar mattering.

okay, you can also come up with plenty of examples of ambiguous parses that don't require violating any grammar rules. fortunately humans are a bit more intelligent than compilers and can use their knowledge of context to settle on the more reasonable interpretation.

But why make other humans do extra work to parse you? It’s arrogant in the extreme to say ‘that’s good enough you figure it out’.

Even scanning text is jarring when the rules aren’t followed, takes extra time to comprehend and adds to the minor irritants of daily life and will have people judging you, even subconsciously, as unintelligent.

> does it actually matter that people don't all the grammar rules



ironic, but it actually supports my point so I'll leave it that way :)

I for one blame the Grammar-Nazis and their anti-semantic ways

ok, i'll let myself out.

Good writing is probably like dressing up. It's not just what people think of you, you think of yourself better too.

I know, we should also get rid of Calculators because people should just do all math in there head

Hell let get rid of computers as well, people should just do everything manually, if you need to communicate drive to the person an talk to them, if you need to write something get out the hammer, chisel and rock...


No Computers, Spell Check, nor grammar check has not ruined civilization or made people stop learning things...

we use calculators because you can't do the kind of arithmetic in your head that calculators are made to perform, and because random arithmetic isn't conducive to understanding math. If you can't add two single digit numbers any more I'd start to be concerned.

Having a proper understanding of grammar and spelling is relevant even in verbal communication. Tools should be used to augment human capacity, not used as an excuse to justify atrophy of basic skills.

You can see that's false by the existence of languages with simpler grammar than English whose users are still able to function to as high or a higher level than English speakers. Some of the grammar in English is redundant. We shouldn't waste our brainpower on it any more than on mental arithmetic/etc.

I don't necessarily disagree but that doesn't have much to do with my point. Simple or complicated grammar, you as a person having command of it rather than outsourcing it to a tool is a skill you need often.

It's irritating how often people even confuse "your" and "you're" nowadays. Some simplifications are harmless but plenty of them can change meaning. And it seems like texting and autocompletion makes people care less and less.

I use it, but only as a suggestion.

Having been subjected to a thrashing early on by a really good editor, they will stress that their isn’t always to correct and re-write your work - they’re often there to mark areas that need clarity or don’t fit the norms of editorial standards.

If they just fixed everything for you, you wouldn’t improve at all.

This experience made me much more careful about the way I write, and who I write for.

my grammar actually improved from proof-editing my essays on grammarly

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