June 13, 1998

Grammatically Incorrect

By Ralph Schoenstein

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Microsoft has many detractors, but no one has noticed its most egregious sin.

The company's word-processing program, Word for Windows 95, is ruining the English language. I have just discovered that Word's grammar check has a command of English equal to that of Tarzan.

I first asked Word to check, She was a most unique woman; she was slightly pregnant. The error was easy to find, two modified absolutes. When the check responded that the sentence was flawless, I knew English was partially dead.

My next offering, I couldn't help but going, used the gerund instead of the infinitive. The check replied, Consider replacing with "could not" in a formal document. As they say in Seattle, I couldn't help but being dismayed.

Eager to see if the check knew the difference between a conjunction and conjunctivitis, I wrote, Due to the weather, they could not come. The check seemed to think that the sentence was Churchillian. Although most people use "due to" incorrectly, I thought that a grammar guide on millions of computers should know that the sentence needed a conjunction instead.

Inspired to eloquent awfulness, I wrote, Thinking it was open, the door was really closed. The check replied, The main clause may contain a verb in the passive voice. But there is no passive voice here, just a thinking door.

Incredulous that Microsoft was helping millions of Americans sound like Popeye, I went on to write, If I was a better man, I would go. Missing my failure to use the subjunctive, the check resorted to political correctness: Gender-specific expression. Consider replacing with "person," "human being" or "individual." The check, of course, had a point. Every time I call myself a man, as opposed to a woman or a newt, I am being gender specific.

Giddy from all the grammatical goofiness, I wrote, There were only three grown-ups between Judy, Jill, Eve-Lynn, Lori, Maria and Max. Once again, the check approved, unaware that between cannot handle six people. That's why among was invented.

Deciding to meet the check halfway, I stopped writing in English: She shopped, like, sixteen times. The check said the sentence was perfect.

Of course it was -- not a single contraction.

Ralph Schoenstein is the author of "Superman and Son," a memoir.

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company