A. Key Truths Beyond (Paid) Grammarly
While the premium version of Grammarly gets a lot of publicity and students often think they need it, there are a number of free options that allow students to access much the same services to address problems with their writing.
- Below are 7 free or low-cost alternatives.
1. Explore the following options on your own.
- Select the tool(s) that best meet the needs of your students.
- Introduce the students to it/them -- or, at the very least, include links to it/them as supplemental resources on your syllabus.
2. AI Grammar Checks Alone Do Not Produce Good Grades -- or Even Perfect English.
a. AI Is Limited
- Note: Students often mistake a "high grade" from an editing tool as "proof" that they are going to earn that (high) grade on their paper.
- Explain to students both the limits of any computer grammar/spell checkers and the difference between content and style.
- Stress the (obvious) point that substantial, on-topic content is essential for a good mark, no matter how "clean" the language may be.
b. Knowing Is Better
- Point out also that even the best online editors are poor substitutes for actually learning the grammar, being able to competently edit one's own (and perhaps others') work, and knowing how to make the subtle language decisions necessary for correct, clear, and effective prose.
- Some online tools that can help students learn grammar are Grammar Bytes: Grammar Instruction with Attitude, Punctuation Paintball, Grammar Ninjas (parts of speech), and Edit Dan's Copy (Level 2). There are many others as well.
B. Some Post-Paid Grammarly Options
1. Free version of Grammarly
- This is the one I use most frequently.
- The free version includes checks for spelling, grammar, and basic punctuation. It allows you to build your own personal dictionary, provides a choice of American, British or Canadian English, and catches most errors students need to worry about. It also provides performance statistics and updates.
- See “Grammar Checker App: Grammarly Review Free Version" [2019; 11:34 min.] for a discussion of the benefits (and limitations) of the free version for writers, ELL students, people with dyslexia, etc.
- The paid version (about $20-30 [USD] a month, depending on payment plan) includes advanced checks for punctuation, grammar, context, sentence structure, and style. It also includes vocabulary suggestions as well as a (limited) plagiarism checker and notes overused words, wordy sentences, weak verbs, and informal language (in a formal document). Many of these "higher-level" checks are less than useful to most student writers.
- Compare the Free and Premium plans (Note: Many of the higher-level functions for Grammarly are available free and/or at a much lower cost through tools listed below.)
- How to Access the Free Version: Go to Grammarly.com, set up an account, download desired functions, and then access as you type.
- Note: The free option is a useful tool and a good option on its own.
- This online tool is useful for basic grammar, diction suggestions, some style issues, overused words, etc.
- It also includes a thesaurus.
- It provides clickable suggestions for misspelled or unknown words, gives basic punctuation correction and instruction, indicates readability level, etc.
- One con: Almost too much analysis of one's text is available (though not required) and that may be overwhelming.
- How to Access the Free Version: Sign up with for a free account to access the online editing tool into which text can be pasted for assessment and analysis.
- This tool catches excessive adverbs, overuse of passive voice, “hard to (very) read sentences,” etc. and often provides alternate phrasing options. It also specifies the “Readability” level of the submitted text.
- How to Access Online Web Editor: Go to Hemingway App and paste the text into the editing box. Problematic text is then colour-coded, and recommended suggestions are indicated on the right side of the screen.
- Note: A Desktop App is also available for purchase currently $19.99 (USD).
4. WhiteSmoke ($$ but less than Grammarly)
- This is a paid service, but it is less expensive that Grammarly and, at the Basic Level (about $8 [USD] a month], includes checks for spelling, grammar, punctuation, & syntax errors. The paid version is used by McGill, UofT, and Western.
- Higher levels of checking (and paying) can include a plagiarism checker, a translator, a Chrome Extension, and "One-click Instant Proofreading.”
- See Pricing.
- This is a good, basic, free service to catch spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and diction problems.
- It also explains confusing word options, making it potentially a useful teaching tool.
- Access 1Checker by creating an account and pasting your text into the online editing tool.
- This online tool catches basic grammatical and syntactical errors.
- Use it free online by pasting the text into the editing box at Sentence Checkup.
- This tool is good for end punctuation, suggestions for synonyms and diction, etc.
- Use it free online by pasting text into the editing box.