- Excellent typo detection
- Only basic grammar checking
Most applications for improving writing, such as ClearEdits, Sentence Aerobics, or StyleWriter, are aimed at professional writers and are priced accordingly. But what about people who just want to avoid embarrassing mistakes in IM chats or email? For them, free grammar checker Ginger (free for basic version) might be a better fit.
Not only is Ginger’s basic version free, but unlike all the applications mentioned above, it doesn’t require Microsoft Word. It runs in the system tray and interfaces with Word, but also with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Outlook, and several other important applications. As you work, Ginger underlines words it thinks you should change, and you can right-click them to see why. You can also select a sentence (but not a paragraph) and hit F2 to have Ginger check the whole sentence.
The corrections Ginger suggests are aimed at casual English conversation, not business documents. For example, when I tested it with words such as “dunno” and “wanna,” it did not flag them as errors, but it did tell me these are informal contractions and offered the full form as an option. Ginger also did not see any problem with the sentence “The button must be pressed by you to proceed,” which $150 StyleWriter quickly pointed out is in passive tense and should be reworded. On the other hand, when I wrote “im jusrt testing whats ginger doing,” Ginger suggested the improvement of “I’m just testing what’s ginger doing,” despite the gross typos. It did not suggest to capitalize its own name, something that would require deep semantic analysis of the sentence, but it does do some semantic analysis: When I wrote “its not a big deal,” Ginger suggested “it’s not a big deal,” but when I wrote “the bird ate its meal,” Ginger did not offer any corrections. Other typo corrections were equally impressive: “its not rly a problem, iswear” was instantly recognized and corrected to “It’s not really a problem, I swear.”
Ginger’s interface is simple, but far from perfect. It is a pane which takes up 100% of the monitor’s width, and cannot be moved or resized in any way. I use two monitors, and Ginger kept opening on the “wrong” monitor. What was more annoying is that as soon as I clicked anywhere outside Word or Ginger, the Ginger window instantly disappeared. This made it impossible to verify Ginger’s advice using third-party websites or Google searches: By the time I’d switch to my browser, Ginger’s window would be long gone. Ginger uses a large font size which cannot be made smaller–large enough for the patrons at the next table in the coffee shop to read, if they’re curious about what you’re doing on your laptop. And speaking of privacy, Ginger needs an Internet connection to work, and sends your text to Ginger’s servers for checking. Ginger says this is done in a secure way that prevents your texts from being reconstructed on the server side.
While Firefox and Internet Explorer are generally supported, I could not get Ginger to work within Google Docs: It popped up an error saying “this application mode is not supported.” It worked fine in Gmail, though.
Despite being free, Ginger does not show annoying popups, nor does it hijack your browser’s default search engine or homepage–two things free utilities sometimes like doing to generate revenue. Ginger’s business model is built on Ginger Premium, an optional $89 version with additional features such as personalized English lessons based on your common mistakes.
While I would not recommend using Ginger for any business or academic writing, it can be helpful in social situations or when writing simple emails, especially for people who speak English as a second language. Just make sure nobody is looking over your shoulder (or from the other side of the room).
Note: The Download button takes you to the vendor’s site, where you must register to download the latest version of the software.