Grammarly Review 2019: How Good Is It? A Human Editor Weighs In

Posted 05 Feb 2019, by

Brendan Brown

Grammarly review 2019: In a nutshell
    • What is it: Grammarly is an online spelling and grammar checker that acts your last line of defense against mistakes and typos.
    • Price: You have two main options: a free version (which is actually pretty good) and a premium version for $29.95 per month (or $139.95 per year if you pay it annually).
    • Who’s it for: It’s suitable for casual writing, from bloggers to students to anyone who regularly composes emails. Be more careful though when using it for professional documents.
    • The best part: Grammarly is incredibly easy to use and is probably the most powerful online grammar checker available.
    • Can it replace a human editor?: No. Human editors and Grammarly are not in direct competition. They have different uses for different types of writing
    • Verdict: Grammarly is definitely worth getting for some writers. Will you benefit from it? Read the full review below to find out.


As a professional editor by trade, I know what a human editor can bring to the table.

However, I still use Grammarly on a regular basis to proofread whatever I post on this blog. I have a pretty good grasp on grammar and English rules already, but it’s surprising how typos and small errors can creep into anyone’s writing.

So what is Grammarly? How good is it really? And can it replace the need for a human proofreader or editor?

I answer these questions and more in my Grammarly review below.

Grammarly overview

Grammarly is the most popular grammar checker available online.

It provides a real-time review of your writing wherever you are doing it, including on social media, email, Microsoft Word or WordPress.

Grammarly underlines critical mistakes in red (spelling and grammar) and, with the premium version, the more advanced ones will be underlined in yellow (style and best practices). By hovering over the indicated words or phrases, you can fix the mistakes directly or read a more detailed explanation of the error.

The 4 main features of Grammarly are:

1. Grammar and punctuation

Grammarly’s most useful function is that it detects grammar and punctuation mistakes and shows you how to fix them. These range from basic ones to more advanced mistakes that you probably didn’t know you’re marking.

It will pick up alliteration, comma splice, run-on sentences, fragments, and so on. If you don’t know what some of these things (and you’re certainly not alone there), then you’re probably guilty of making mistakes with them in your writing.

2. Spell Check

Grammarly is a robust spell check tool. It’s more comprehensive than the in-built spell check within Microsoft Word.

3. Plagiarism

Your writing will also be checked for plagiarism, by comparing your text to billions of pages across the web.

4. Writing Style

This is an underappreciated feature of Grammarly. It provides insights about your readability score, sentence-length and so on, so that you can adapt your writing style for a particular audience.

Many kinds of writers can benefit from using Grammarly, including those who write for a living and others who just want error-free writing in their social media posts or emails.

In saying that, I think the following people can most benefit from using Grammarly:

  • Students
  • Bloggers
  • Content marketers and copywriters
  • Business writers who want to draft an accurate report, presentation, or email.

Do you even need a grammar checker?

grammarly review woman

Now, I don’t want to come across as a member of the grammar police.

But as an editor, it would be bereft of me not to point out how important good grammar actually is.

The thing is good grammar is really, really important.

Every writer should strive to write in a clear and easy to read way. Clear writing is effective writing.

The best way to achieve clear writing is for it to be free from grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes.

Typos and errors are more than embarrassing. They mean that your writing won’t have the impact that it should. Readers can’t help but draw conclusions from poor grammar and language errors – it reflects poorly on the professionalism and ability of the writer themselves.

So a powerful online grammar checker is potentially a great way for writers to ensure that their work is clear and error free. However, although Grammarly is very good, it’s not perfect.

Below I explain some of its pros and cons in more detail, as well as how to get the most out of using Grammarly.

The 3 best features of Grammarly

Let’s start with the good news about Grammarly. In my experience, these are the 3 best things about using it.

1. Easy to use

Some people may balk at using any form of online ‘software’. However, Grammarly is not a complex piece of writing software. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to use and intuitive.

I installed the software on my PC (I use Firefox) as an extension in only a few clicks. Now, it effectively runs on autopilot in the background and points out errors you make as I make them.

I’ve briefly played around with other online Grammar checkers, such as ProWritingAid and Ginger, and Grammarly is the easiest to use – by a long way.

2. It’s accurate

Grammarly works.

When I use it to proofread my blog posts, I find that the software doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.

Occasionally it may put a comma in where you don’t need one or misinterpret what you’re trying to say. But on the whole, it picks up everything you’d want in an online grammar checker.

3. Easy to understand explanations

Highlighting your mistakes as you write is the most important thing for a grammar checker (so you don’t end up actually making them).

But a nice feature of Grammarly is that it also explains the mistakes you make. In effect, Grammarly is like a writing coach sitting in the corner, ready to help you at any time. This helps you understand why you made the mistake, allowing you to learn and improve your writing.

If English is your second language, this can be a really useful tool for improving your written English.

Even if you’re a native English speaker, it’s great to learn how to phrase certain phrases properly, when you’re overusing particular words, where to best places commas, and so on.

How to use Grammarly for maximum impact

You may be thinking: do I have to copy and paste everything I write into a Grammar text box for it to check my writing? Because that would be pretty annoying…

The answer is no, there are more convenient ways to go about it.

Grammarly is an internet-based tool, so you need to be connected to the internet to use it. However, there are various ways in which you can check your work, including:

1. Website

The first option is to simply copy and paste your writing directly into the Grammarly web tool. To do this, click on ‘New’ in the dashboard and you will be presented with a blank page.

Copy your writing into the page and leave it a few seconds. The Grammarly tool will start analyzing the writing before coming up with a list of mistakes or recommendations.

You can achieve the same effect by uploading a document via the dashboard. Simply click ‘Upload’ instead of ‘New’, choose a document (e.g. a Word doc) from your computer, and Grammarly will analyze the content in the same way.

Alternatively, you can type directly into the Grammarly website, and the tool will check your writing as you go.

2. Desktop app

If you would prefer to check your writing via a desktop app, this is possible – as long as you use Windows or MacOS.

Simply download the app for your system by visiting the download page, follow the installation instructions and start using the tool in much the same way as the online version.

3. Microsoft Word

You can also use a Grammarly add-in directly within Microsoft Word. However, at the time of writing, this is only available if you are running Windows.

Visit the add-in page here and follow the instructions to add it to Word. Once up and running, the add-in will check your writing as you type.

4. Browser extension

One of the easiest ways to use Grammarly is via a browser extension.

There is a link on the homepage to this extension, or you can search for Grammarly in the Chrome Web Store.

Simply add the extension to Chrome as you would any other extension, and it will automatically check your writing when you use it on a number of websites.

This includes Gmail, providing you with assistance when you are typing an email, and even Google Docs for those of you who prefer Google’s word processor.

Here are a few of the other sites that you can use it on:

Grammarly use options

5. On your phone

Grammarly also has its own keyboard that you can use on your smartphone. This is available for both iOS and Android devices.

Once activated, the app will check your writing as you compose an email or text message. It is very useful if you want to catch those little mistakes that are so easy to make on phones, and it also has smart predictions to speed up your typing.

You can download the app at the Play Store or the App Store.

How much does Grammarly cost?

The great thing about Grammarly is that you can use it without paying anything. Yes, using Grammarly can be free.

The free version of Grammarly has no restrictions, meaning you can sign up and use it for as long as you want to without any limit or trial period.

If you want to upgrade to Premium, the current pricing starts at:

  • $11.66 a month when you pay annually ($139.95 in total)
  • $19.98 a month when you pay quarterly
  • $29.95 a month when you pay monthly.

Grammarly Business costs $15 per user per month when billed annually. This provides you with everything included in premium with the addition of an admin panel, statistics for your team, centralized billing, and priority support.

Free version: What you get

The free version of Grammarly is actually pretty good.

It provides you with a comprehensive spelling, grammar, and punctuation checker, which is more powerful than the average spell check you get with most word processors.

When the tool finds potential mistakes, it underlines them in red. If you are using the web interface, you can then progress through each issue by clicking the sections on the right (Grammar, Punctuation, etc). Or you can click on individual highlighted errors to find out more.

The free version will catch most of the basic mistakes in your writing as well as suggesting words that you may have meant to use. For example, it highlights spelling mistakes:

Grammarly spelling mistakes

Punctuation mistakes:

It also allows you to choose your version of English depending on where your readers are based:

It will also highlight convention mistakes. For example, it will highlight ‘color’ if you are writing in Australian English.

You will also see how many issues Grammarly Premium has found in your writing. Crucially, these will not be visible to you in the free version, and you will have to upgrade to see them.

Another useful feature of the free account is that you can set goals for your writing. When typing directly into the website, click on ‘Set Goals’ on the right of the page, and the following popup will appear:

You can then select the style, level of emotion, intent, and audience to help Grammarly provide more accurate feedback on your writing.

Premium version: What you get

The premium version of Grammarly does everything that the free version does plus a lot more.

It includes a far greater number of checks relating to grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and context. In addition to the checks on the free version, it includes:

  • Writing inconsistencies
  • Unclear structure
  • Overuse of words
  • Wordiness
  • Inappropriate tone
  • Insensitive language.

It also provides suggestions for vocabulary improvements and style checks for different types of writing (e.g. academic writing).

Under the ‘Set Goals’ option, you can choose the type of writing you are creating from a selection including Academic, Business, Technical, Creative and Casual:

By checking the style of your writing, the premium version can help you spot stylistic issues that weaken your writing.

For example, it will pick up on instances where you use the passive voice or where you end sentences with prepositions. While not always wrong, such issues may weaken your writing.

In fact, I think this style feature is the most valuable feature of Grammarly premium.

As an editor, I find that most writers have a really bad habit of being overly wordy and long-winded. Saying something in 5 words, instead of 10, is key to clear, engaging and impactful writing.

Therefore, Grammarly premium will stop overly wordy writers in their tracks.

Another useful feature included in the premium version is the plagiarism checker. This checks your writing on the web to find out if you have, for example, forgotten to remove content that you were using for research purposes.

Remember, plagiarism doesn’t have to be intentional. When you’re using different sources from the web to write something, it’s possible to inadvertently copy someone else’s writing.

Therefore, this is a pretty useful tool for students and content marketers in particular.

Is the premium version worth it?

Yes, if you can afford it.

The free version is a useful tool, and better than not having a set of digital eyes run over your writing. It will identify more spelling and grammar mistakes than your typical free checker (I’m looking at you, Microsoft Word).

If you’re a writer on a budget, try installing the free Chrome browser extension and test it for yourself.

However, as with most things in life, things that cost money are better than their free alternatives.

Grammarly Premium will identify more spelling and grammar issues in your document. You’ll also receive tips to improve your writing style and feedback/context behind your mistakes.

I personally pay for the premium version because I appreciate the extra features.

When it comes to writing a blog about editing, proofreading and the art of writing, it’s important that typos and small errors never creep into my writing.

If you take your writing craft seriously, the premium version is definitely worth the extra expense.

How Grammarly compares to a human editor

grammarly vs human editor

This is the part of my Grammarly review I was most excited to write about!

I’m a professional editor of books and journal articles destined for high-level English language journals. I know how important clear, accurate and error-free writing is.

Although Grammarly is effective at catching certain mistakes, it is not a human editor. As an editor, it’s clear to me that machines still have a long way to go before they can match humans.

For a start, some mistakes will slip through on Grammarly, even mistakes that seem quite basic. Some mistakes are simply harder for machines to spot.

For example, you may use a word that is spelled correctly but is not the right word in the context of the paragraph. Or you may mention that someone has blonde hair in one paragraph and brown hair in the next.

Grammarly would not pick up on these mistakes, but a good human editor would.

When it comes to more advanced issues like paragraph length, the tone of voice and the meaning of phrases and sentences, a human is often necessary.

The thing is that English is a tricky language to write well in, and it’s even trickier to proofread.

English has flexible grammar rules and the elements to good writing and good storytelling are highly contextual. Human eyes will always be superior to the rigidity of automatic tools.

As a result, while Grammarly is a very useful tool for casual writing, it is not suitable for more formal writing. If you are writing a dissertation, an important business document or a manuscript, professional editing is important.

In the end, Grammarly and human editors are not in direct competition. You don’t need to make a choice between them. They have different uses for different types of writing.

Grammarly vs the competition

Grammarly isn’t the only online grammar checker you have at your disposal. However, with over 10 million subscribers, it is the most ubiquitous.

Other grammar checkers with similar features to Grammarly include ProWritingAid, Ginger and WhiteSmoke.

Like Grammarly, they are full-on grammar, punctuation and spell checkers.

How do they compare to Grammarly? Are they a viable alternative? Is there a clear winner when it comes to robot grammar checking?

Let’s find out.

Note: I am a premium subscriber to Grammarly, but used the free versions of ProWritingAid, Ginger and WhiteSmoke for this Grammarly review article. The free versions gave me a pretty good feel as to how they work and but my view of their premium features is based on what they can do on paper, rather than how I experienced them in real life.

ProWritingAid

Pros

  • Probably the best Grammarly alternative out there.
  • As well as correcting spelling and grammar mistakes, it also focuses on strengthening your writing. It does this by checking for style issues like sentence structure, cliches, overused words, repeated phrases, and not enough variety in sentence length.
  • Provides a detailed report of your writing focusing on these ‘bigger picture’ issues. This could be a handy tool for longer pieces of writing, such as books or essays.
  • I really like their focus on style. As an editor, I come across sentences and passages every day that aren’t technically incorrect but the expression is awkward and a little painful to read. The style suggestions provided by ProWritingAid could improve all sorts of convoluted writing.
  • Excellent value for money. The Premium version is $60 per year and the Premium+ (which includes a plagiarism checker) is $70. Grammarly substantially more at $139.95 per year.

Cons

  • It trades simplicity for its comprehensiveness.
  • As a pure spelling and grammar checker, it’s not as advanced or user-friendly as Grammarly.
  • It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information it provides regarding style. While their suggestions may be useful if you’re writing a book or essay, for every day writing such as email and social media posts, it’s mostly unnecessary.
  • Not as seamless to use as it only offers a browser extension for Chrome. This is pretty important because Chrome stopped being the best web browser a few years back.

Ginger

Pros

  • It has a few extra features that Grammarly doesn’t have, such as a translator that allows you to translate your text between 60 languages.
  • On a practical level, a translator could be really useful for someone who needs to write in more languages than just English. For instance, you could write in Spanish, translate to English, and check for spelling and grammar errors – all in Ginger.
  • You get your own personal dictionary. This means you can tell Ginger you don’t want certain words identified as a mistake. If you use unusual character names in a story or technical jargon, then this is really useful.
  • A yearly subscription costs $89.88 vs $139.95 for Grammarly.

Cons

  • Although Ginger may have similar functionality to Grammarly, it’s not as easy to use and its interface is a little on the ugly side.
  • You also have to hover over the grammar errors rather than them being shown immediately. This slows the proofreading process down somewhat.
  • It doesn’t offer a Mac desktop app yet nor does it integrate with MS Word.

WhiteSmoke

Pros

  • Like all the good grammar checkers, it integrates with all the major platforms. It has Windows and MacOs desktop apps, and it’s available as an extension for all the major browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera).
  • Helps you compose professional documents. It provides useful templates for writing projects such as Thank You, condolences and Sorry notes.
  • A yearly subscription costs $79.99 per year vs $139.95 for Grammarly.

Cons

  • Not as advanced as Grammarly, ProWritingAid and Ginger, at least in terms of the user interface and speed. It just feels more clunky to use.

Why Grammarly is my preferred choice

On the face of it, these grammar checkers provide some serious competition to Grammarly.

ProWritingAid, Ginger, and WhiteSmoke are all robust grammar, spelling and punctuation checkers. They also have some additional features that Grammarly does not. ProWritingAid provides more comprehensive feedback on your writing style. Ginger has an inbuilt language translator, and WhiteSmoke has professional templates to help you draft professional documents.

And they are all cheaper than Grammarly too.

However, I still think Grammarly is the best online grammar checker. The reason is simple – it’s the easiest and most intuitive to use.

Grammarly is a more elegant, streamlined and functional tool than its 3 main competitors. They all have an element of clunkiness in comparison.

In particular, the Grammarly desktop app looks great and the layout is highly functional with its minimalist icons. You instantaneously see the mistakes, the reason for the mistake, and can quickly choose to implement or discard them with a simple click.

Installing Grammarly is also so easy. With just a few clicks it checks everything I write when I’m in my browser (I use Firefox). It just works seamlessly in the background.

It’s not surprising that Grammarly is more beautiful and easier to use than its competitors. It’s simply a bigger company with more resources.

Think about this. If they can afford to spend millions on those sleek TV commercials you’ve almost certainly come across, image how much they’ve invested into R&D and design across their website, apps and browser extensions?

If online grammar checking were an arms race, Grammarly possesses all the nukes.

I’m usually all for supporting plucky upstarts over their bigger rivals. I’m a Watford F.C. fan in the English Premier League after all.

But when it comes to getting a robot to proofread my own writing, I just want the tool that is the easiest to use. I write this blog as a part of my work and I need my workflow to be as efficient as possible.

That’s why I choose to use Grammarly.

My verdict: Should you get Grammarly?

You’ve read through my Grammarly review, so you know I like it and I use it myself when I write on this blog.

It’s not perfect, and will never replace a professional human editor, but it does a good job for what it’s designed to do.

So should you use it?

I think Grammarly can be a handy tool for almost any writer.

The free version is useful for anyone who writes shorter pieces of writing, from bloggers to students to anyone who regularly composes emails.

As for the Premium version, it is particularly useful for anyone producing more professional, longer form content. However, if your document is intended for publication (i.e. dissertation or book) or will be read by important stakeholders (i.e. a work document), I wouldn’t put all my eggs in the Grammarly basket.

I also recommend the premium version to anyone for whom English is their second language.

It’s very easy to make mistakes with the intricacies of English, and Grammarly picks up a lot (though not all) of them. As well as simply highlighting mistakes, it suggests improvements, making it a useful tool to improve your written English.

Verdict: If you want to provide an extra layer of checks to your writing, or you want to improve your writing by becoming more aware of frequent issues that weaken it, Grammarly is well worth getting.

Thanks for reading my Grammarly review. I hope you found it useful.

I have placed a few affiliate links in this article. This means that I receive a small commission from Grammarly if you sign up. However, the price of the premium version remains the same for you, and you can always just use Grammarly for free here.

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