Grammarly writes a new, cash-rich chapter

The writers’ aid has picked up a big financial raise at a fat valuation.

IDGConnect_grammarly_writing_software_shutterstock_1980137399_1200x800
Shutterstock

The news that Grammarly has raised $200m at a $13bn valuation is proof (pun intended) that writers’ technology tools remains a hugely valuable niche.

Unusually, Grammarly says that it has been cash-flow positive for years now so the funding, partly from giant VC BlackRock, is an opportunity to build out its engineering and channels to market. It comes as the Ukrainian-American company launches Mac and Windows desktop versions to supplement its current free browser extensions. The overall Grammarly freemium service includes features such as grammar, spelling checking, tone analysis and plagiarism detection. Only available in English, Grammarly currently claims to serve 30 million people.

An SDK should also help Grammarly on its mission to be embedded wherever people draft words from emails, messages and Slack boards to presentations, Microsoft Word and Google Docs. And that’s some mission. Despite the rise of vlogging and social audio apps such as Clubhouse, our command of language remains out best chance to persuade, command and cajole. Embarrassment over an inability to create powerful (or even clear) prose remains common, hence the demand for copy at the behest of everyone from CEOs to social media managers. 

Writing tools have a long history from the outlining functions and grammar and spelling checkers in word-processing, software-assisted translation (led by companies such as SDL), speech recognition programs like DragonDictate, predictive and auto-correcting smartphone text and Otter.ai, the popular add-in for Zoom transcripts. Still many non-professional writers (and some professionals too) continue to be concerned about their ability to write coherently and stay on the right side of the self-elected grammar police.

Grammarly says its differentiation lies in its AI-infused approach to help people “say what they really mean”. That’s a bold aim but prose can all too often be lost in half-remembered “rules” and vague notions of “correct grammar”. Automated tools rarely have an ear for good writing, preferring to let engines that rule out split infinitives have their way.  By those lights we would never have Star Trek’s evocative and musical “to boldly go where no man has gone before” and instead we would suffer the clunk “to go boldly where no man has gone before”. But, to be fair to Grammarly, I like the way it nudges writers to actions rather than being prescriptive and the automatic suggestion facility probably suits a generation brought up with autocorrect.

"Brilliant writing awaits," trumpets Grammarly’s website. Maybe not, but functional prose and decent advice? Yes. A foundation in AI should see Grammarly set fair for long-term improvements but parsing the English language, with its roots dating back well over 1,000 years, remains a task for the ages.

To continue reading this article register now