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IMG_1219We’re all familiar with spelling and grammar checkers. Predictive phone text, initially clunky, has come on in leaps and bounds. Gmail’s Smart Compose suggests responses for your emails. Now it’s tone checking. The best known of these is Grammarly’s Tone Detector, which sits in the background of your browser and activates when you write an email.

A Range of Tones

Grammarly claims it will identify a range of tones through its algorithms which analyse your use of words, phrasing, punctuation, and capitalization. As you type, emojis pop-up. Click on these to discover how your email might be perceived. Tones range from informal, to aggressive, along with many others such as accusatory, confident, angry and egocentric. There are around 40 tones available.

The Experiment

I’d thought I’d give it a go. Downloading was quick and easy but the first catch is that you have to open an account to proceed which means, if you later decide it’s not for you, there’s the palaver of deleting your account. I tried a couple of test emails. My first was this:

‘Dear Sir

Further to your email about the Grammarly test of this morning, I am writing to let you know how well this performs. My overall impression is not positive.’

Apparently, the tone of this is ‘informative’. Grammarly did not pick up on the ‘Dear Sir, the ‘Further to’ or ‘I am writing’. The first is clearly formal – too much so for an email. The second is a grammatical nonsense. Finally, ‘I am writing’ is self-evident and should never be used.

Not very impressive. I gave it a second chance with this piece:

‘Good morning Mr James

So – this is interesting! I am delighted to let you know about this free app. It seems useful but can it/does it really work?’

A slightly better performance here. Grammarly removed the ‘really’ (it either works or it doesn’t) but left the exclamation mark – always a sign of poor writing and just wrong with the formal start. My tone was classified as ‘ very friendly’ and ‘joyful’. Possibly not what I was aiming for . . .

The Problem with Synonyms

Grammarly also makes word and phrase suggestions. For example, instead of ‘I am very happy’ it suggests ‘I am delighted’, ‘I am thrilled’ and ‘I am pleased.’ There’s the next problem – synonyms. The English language has many words which are similar but express different shades of meaning. ‘Delight’ is much stronger than ‘very happy’. ‘Thrilled’ is over the top and ‘pleased’ is rather muted.

Slow Down Think More

Perhaps the most useful attribute of the app is that it may slow you down before pressing ‘Send’. For the moment though, it’s not particularly useful and more likely to confuse than enlighten. I’ve written recently about the downfalls inherent in automatic translation. I have similar reservations with tone checking. It might help with those who speak English as a second language, but there is no substitute for the human eye.


Luckily, we at Accutranslate stick to tried and tested methods, so your translations will always be accurate, localized and correct.