One of the nice innovations in the 2007 Microsoft Office system is the contextual spelling checker. Everyone knows the red wavy lines which appear under misspelled words, i.e. words which are not included in the Office speller lexicon. They are usually considered as an extremely useful feature to spot the odd typo, remind you that recieve should in fact be spelled receive, that informations with an -s does not exist in English, or that occurence takes a double ‘c’ and a double ‘r’ (occurrence). You may also use the grammar checker which may be useful to spot grammatical mistakes like agreement errors, as in:

 

My friend spend two weeks in Colorado every year.

 

The grammar checker will cause a green squiggle to appear under “friend spend” and will suggest “friends spend” or “friend spends”. It’s of course up to the user to choose the suitable correction, since no tool will know the exact intention of the writer.

 

One of the problems with the traditional spell-checker and grammar checker is that they are usually not able to spot contextual errors, i.e. when an existing word is used in the wrong context. Take the following example, which is grammatically (i.e. syntactically) correct:

 

How do your two roles compliment each other?

 

In this context, the verb complement (with -e-) should be used instead of compliment. The traditional spell-checker cannot spot that mistake since both verbs exist in the lexicon and that tool does not know anything about the context. The grammar checker does not see the problem because the syntactic analysis relies upon information about the part of speech of the words and the sentence is correct in this respect.

 

The 2007 Microsoft Office system, whose Beta 2 version was made available to the public at large very recently, now has a new feature to solve this vexing issue: blue squiggles appear under words which are used in the wrong context, like compliment above, which is now flagged by the new version of the Office system.

 

The following sentences illustrate this cool new feature (if you type them in Word 2007, the word in italics will be squiggled with these blue wavy lines; right-click on the word and you’ll see the suggestion I reproduce between parentheses):

 

He bought a pear of shoes. (-> pair)

He was loosing too much time. (-> losing)

You cannot associate this account on more then one mailbox. (-> than)

 

Look at the screenshot below. Haven’t you been dreaming about that feature for a long time? I have and I can assure you that I’ll make sure my kids use it!

 

The team that worked on this feature in our group did a really great job and I now regularly see blue squiggles under a whole gamut of mistakes which had gone unnoticed so far. I’m convinced this can only improve the linguistic quality of my own documents…

 

Thierry Fontenelle

Microsoft Speech & Natural Language group