Stop Using Grammarly

You’ll fly higher without it.

Matthew McFarlane
Jan 10 · 4 min read
Genius Surrounded by a Banderole Showing the Alphabet, 1542. Sebald Beham. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the machines on the spaceship Heart of Gold are programmed with Genuine People Personalities. These personalities run the gamut from the deeply depressed—Marvin the Paranoid Android—to the manically chipper—the ship’s central computer.

Neither are particularly pleasant to be around, but it’s the boundless need to help that makes the ship’s computer so agonizing to interact with.

“Hi there!” it said brightly and simultaeneously spewed out a tiny ribbon of ticker tape just for the record. The ticker tape said, Hi There!

“Oh God,” said Zaphod. He hadn’t worked with this computer for long but had already learned to loathe it.

The central computer in Hitchhiker’s comes to mind quite often when I am writing using Grammarly. Much like the ship’s computer, Grammarly only has one speed—obnoxiously helpful. It gurgles and burbles away, offering cheerful, bright red lines at the least opportune moments. Bright red, by the way, being a color we have evolved to find visually arresting; a color that sets off alarm bells deep in our lizard brains, yelling at us to stop, shift our focus, and check out whether we may have misspelled “imbecile.” We did, but that is not the point.

The point is that Grammarly, and most other spell checking software, ruins our ability to get into what everyone on Medium is now legally obligated to call “a flow state.” In ancient times, people referred to “a flow state” as “paying attention to what you’re doing,” but that sounds nowhere near as cool.

Writing is a form of thinking. It’s a way to clearly distill your thoughts on a subject, while simultaneously honing them and deciding what exactly it is you think about this topic.

Given the above, it should be pretty obvious that writing is much more difficult when your train of thought is being constantly interrupted—when your eyes are flitting back and forth between your cursor and the red lines manifesting all over your sentences.

You may believe that Grammarly is just helpfully catching small mistakes for you and saving you from embarrassment. I did as well when a coworker first recommended I add the browser extension. But over time I came to realize that Grammarly was doing much more than that. It was breaking my concentration, keeping me from finishing thoughts as quickly and easily as I would like.

Grammarly does this by incessantly underlining anything it thinks you may have done wrong, even while you are still typing that sentence.

Take the first sentence in this screed. I made it to the word “Guide” before Grammarly helpfully underlined “In” (my first word!) because for whatever reason, four goddamn words into my sentence, I needed to know that I was doing something wrong.

Perhaps by upgrading to Premium, you suggest, I will get a better class of spellchecker, one that only red-lines me when something is actually wrong with my writing. In that case, I am using a service that is actively bullying me into paying for something I don’t actually need. I wouldn’t say that lands in the “pros” column.

And you don’t need it either! If you’re worried about making stupid grammar mistakes, don’t be. You probably despise the type of person (me) who would care about that. And If someone calls you on it, just act like you’re breaking the rules because you’re a literary badass who don’t play by no rules—especially not archaic ones created by a bunch of word nerds to show off their syntactical superiority. Smash the Grammararchy!

Or just read what you’ve written out loud. Seriously, it’s very difficult to make boneheaded mistakes with your writing if you’re willing to read it out loud. And if you’re embarrassed to start reading your emails out loud, know that you can get away with just moving your lips and doing a kind of whisper thing instead of actually talking. It still works.

But the real reason for breaking the habit of relying on spellcheckers, especially incredibly invasive ones like Grammarly, is that it will force you to become a better writer. It will force you to actually think about your sentences and edit them accordingly. Maybe you’ll even have to look up some basic grammar and learn a few things you didn’t know. I still do it all the time, and it’s incredibly rewarding when I realize I’ve been fucking up my comma placement for decades. Hooray for learning!

I know that figuring out English grammar and spelling is tough. I misspell quite a few words when I’m writing. But I’ve come to realize that I don’t actually misspell a lot of different words. I just misspell the same words over and over, and I haven’t learned from my mistakes because the spellchecker immediately offers the corrected version for me.

So, why does it matter? I wrote this article with Grammarly—mostly to get some good bits on how annoying it is—and it turned out just fine-ish. Why go through the struggle of figuring out your own spelling and grammar mistakes and then correcting them?

I would argue you should do it for the same reason you don’t ride a bike with training wheels your entire life. To do so would be to always remain a child. You aren’t drinking from a sippy cup while reading this because you’re an adult—and you aren’t that drunk yet. You’ve learned a thing or two, including how to read and write. Take the next step. Get rid of Grammarly and see what it feels like to swim without the water wings.

Do it because a little danger makes everything more exciting. The next time you’re sending a serious, company-wide email, turn off the spell-checker, sink into the deep end, and start paddling.

It’s always a little more fun when there’s no lifeguard on duty.

Matthew McFarlane

Written by

Reader, writer, content provider. Fan of hand-made guitars, racket-based sports, and houseplants. You can find me in St. Louie.

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