Thursday, September 19, 2013

Word's Grammar Punctuation Settings: What Works, What Doesn't

To access the proofing settings described in the post above, follow these steps:

1.   Click the Office button (2007 version) or File tab (2010, 2013 versions).
2.   Click the Word Options button (2007) or Options link on the left side panel (2010 and 2013).
3.   Click the Proofing link on the left side panel.
4.   Click the Settings button; Grammar Settings dialog box displays (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Commas and Lists
In the Grammar Settings dialog box under the Require category, Comma required before last list item is the setting to change.

The default is don’t check; although for consistency, I recommend changing it:

  • If you want to always include the comma before the conjunction, change the setting to always. For example, this sentence would be flagged as an error with the always setting because the comma is missing after Mary: The manager invited Jim, Susan, Mary and Joe to lunch to celebrate their promotions.
  • If you never want to include the comma before the conjunction, change the setting to never. This sentence would be flagged as an error with the never setting because the comma is to be omitted after Mary: The manager invited Jim, Susan, Mary, and Joe to lunch to celebrate their promotions.

This setting is typically correct. However, when a second and is introduced in the list, Word doesn’t detect an error for either setting (always or never). Here’s an example where the serial comma would help the reader understand the sentence:

The restaurant will promote the following pies this week: coconut, peanut butter and chocolate and marshmallow.

Without the comma, do you know the flavor of the pies? Is there a peanut butter and chocolate pie or a chocolate and marshmallow pie? A comma will make it clear. Word doesn’t flag the missing comma for the always setting, or if the second comma was placed, Word wouldn’t flag it as an error for the never setting. Be careful with these types of lists, even though they're not common.

Innies or Outies? Punctuation Placement with Quotation Marks
In the Grammar Settings dialog box under the Require category, Punctuation required with quotes is the setting to change.

Again, the default is don’t check; so if you want to have periods and commas checked for their placement with quotation marks, change the setting to either inside or outside.

Sometimes, the error isn’t flagged, although it depends on another punctuation setting. If the Punctuation—stylistic suggestions is not selected, the Punctuation required with quotes is consistently correct. If you use a lot of quotation marks, you may want to be sure the punctuation style setting is not checked. See the settings for Punctuation—stylistic suggestions below.

When the period is placed inside of the quotation marks, some Americans think it “looks wrong.” For American English, this is the correct way to punctuate it.

Incorrect Punctuation for Grammar Category

In the Grammar Settings dialog box under the Grammar category (see Figure 1), click the Punctuation check box to detect errors on the following items:

Incorrect use of commas. Missing commas are not detected; so if you’re relying on Word to tell you where to place commas, this setting will not help you. Word will occasionally guide you if a comma is not placed in its proper position with this setting, although this setting is not reliable. Because there are so many reasons to use commas, it’s easy to see why detecting comma errors by a computer is difficult. Consequently, you need to know comma rules. Sorry!  

Incorrect use of colons. Colons are used to introduce lists and long quotations. A colon is not used to introduce a list if it follows a to be verb (is, are, was, were, being, been, etc.) or a preposition (for, with, etc.), even if the list is vertical.

For example, this list follows a to be verb. An effective to-do list must be: simple, short, and real-world tested. Word will correctly detect this error ; however, the following error is not detected but should be. 

An effective to-do list must be:
  • Simple 
  • Short 
  • Real-world tested 

We need to consider new positions for: Accounting, Sales, and Production. Word will flag this error correctly because the list follows a preposition, although once again, it doesn’t detect it when the list changes to a vertical format.

Sometimes Word detects the incorrect use for long quotations; and sometimes it doesn’t. If you forget to use the colon, Word may or may not flag the error.

End-of-sentence punctuation. This setting detects an error when a question ends with a period. Here are the examples it flags correctly:

The speakers were to focus on the presentation, weren’t they.
Are you going to the meeting.

Word suggests a question mark for the above questions. However, Word incorrectly suggests a question mark to be used when the statement is a polite command, which doesn’t use a question mark: Will you please answer the following questions. 

Multiple spaces between words. This setting consistently flags more than one space between words in a sentence. 

Semicolon used in place of a comma or colon. As with most settings in this category, Word doesn’t always detect errors where semicolons are used when a comma or colon should be used. It’s not reliable.

Incorrect Punctuation for Style Setting

In the Grammar Settings dialog box under the Style category (see Figure 2), this setting detects errors for the following:

Figure 2
Unneeded commas in date phrases. This setting correctly flags commas placed between month and day (September, 24) and month and year (September, 2013). 

Informal successive punctuation marks. Errors flagged include more than one exclamation point (versions 2010 and 2013, not 2007), question mark, comma, and apostrophe. Double periods and more than four periods are flagged, but not three or four periods. 

Missing commas before quotations. This setting doesn’t reliably detect all errors. For example, She said “I like being in control.” is not flagged, although She said “I am happy to do this presentation.” is flagged. Both examples should have a comma after the word said.

Word’s FAQs state the following about grammar proofing in Word: “…you may experience some amount of ‘false’ or ‘suspect’ flagging and subsequent wrong suggestions; however, the grammar proofing tool in Word 2002 and later versions is vastly improved over earlier versions of Microsoft Word.” That’s true, and that’s why it’s helpful to know the grammar rules.

Even if these punctuation settings don’t work very well, some of the other grammar settings do help you proofread and edit your documents. Stay tuned for more exciting instructions to come. In the meantime, celebrate National Punctuation Day (Tuesday, September 24) by learning punctuation rules (that way, you won’t have to suffer through these grammar checker settings). 

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro


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  15. Thanks for the tips and hints. Actually, I've never known that MC Office has such options. So, I guess I've made lots of mistakes there...Anyway, it's not always convenient using MC Word, so I decided to use instant grammar checker instead. Google Search is the best helper in it. I found also some useful tips concerning capitalization here.