Grammarly Flaws: Subject-Verb Agreement

Grammarly Sometimes Makes Mistakes with Subject-Verb Agreement

 
This is the first article in what will be an ongoing series of articles about mistakes that the computerized self-proofreading tool Grammarly makes. Grammarly is a great tool that catches many mistakes that Microsoft Word’s built-in spell-checker misses. I use Grammarly when proofreading documents for my clients as a final sweep of sorts to catch any last small — but important — errors that my eyes may have missed. However, Grammarly sometimes wants to make changes that do not need to be made. Thus, blindly following Grammarly’s suggestions can result in creating new errors instead of eliminating them.
 
 
 
The first Grammarly flaw that I will be discussing is its occasional inaccuracy regarding subject-verb agreement.

An article I posted recently — “Continually” or “Continuously?” — included the following phrase:

“The first of these two sentences means that it has been raining…”

Grammarly apparently found an error with this phrase. It identified the word means as a critical error and wanted me to replace it with mean. Here is the reason that was given for this suggestion: “The verb means does not seem to agree with the subject first. Consider changing the verb form.” However, the verb means does agree with the subject first. Both are singular.

While doing some fooling around with this phrase, I found something curious. Grammarly only identifies a subject-verb agreement error when the word two is included in the phrase. Grammarly does not identify any errors in the following phrases:

“The first of these sentences means that it has been raining…”

“The first of these three sentences means that it has been raining…”

“The first of these eighty-six sentences means that it has been raining…”

“The first of these great many sentences means that it has been raining…”

Because all of these phrases are fine, it is odd that Grammarly identifies an error when two is used.

If I had followed Grammarly’s advice, I would have ended up with the grammatically incorrect “The first of these two sentences mean that it has been raining.”


Jake Magnum, author of the Magnum Proofreading Tips blog, is dedicated to helping writers perfect their work. In addition to giving free advice on his blog, Jake helps writers by offering very affordable proofreading services at magnumproofreading.com.

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