Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grammarly: Misleading website kills my desire to learn about their service

This post is part of a four-part series on Grammarly.
  1. Grammarly: Misleading website kills my desire to learn about their service
  2. Grammarly responds to my claim that their website is misleading
  3. Grammarly: Impressive response to complaints reignites my desire to learn about their service
  4. Grammarly responds to complaints about not disclosing their pricing
Additionally, you'll find my review of Grammarly for English-learning purposes here.

It's pretty rare for a language-learning tool to annoy me enough that I feel the need to write a post about it. But Grammarly has managed to do just that.

I saw Grammarly recently advertised on some language-learning site I was on. It's supposed to automatically check English-language text for grammar and other various mistakes. I thought it sounded interesting, so I clicked through the ad. On their home page, I see this big welcoming button telling me to "Get Started Now!", and noting in little tiny letters below that no registration is required.

"No registration required? Great!", I thought, and clicked on the button.

Watch me get annoyed by, receive an email from, and then write an email back to Grammarly, after the jump.

On the next page, you're asked to "Copy and paste your text here, then press 'Start Review'". So I put some purposefully mutilated English text to see what would happen. Grammarly appears to run its correction algorithm on your text, and then they give you this little gem:

So "no registration required" but I've got to "sign up now" to see the corrections? This was probably the point at which I should have cut and run, but curiousity led me on. I gave them a name, an email and a password, thinking that'd be enough. But, oh no, once they got that, here's what I was faced with...

OK, now maybe they were going to say that "registering" isn't the same as "signing up", but I'm pretty sure that "creating an account" is definitely "registering". I'd been duped into providing an email address, and I wasn't going to get to see how good their corrections were without paying up.

Now that was of course the point at which I ditched out. They had an email of mine, but I didn't see an easy way to delete it from the system so I just left, hoping they would leave me alone.

But no. Not content to leave bad enough alone, I got this email earlier today:
Hi Street-Smart Language Learning,

I'd like to follow up with you on your interest in Grammarly writing support tool. You recently tried to sign up for an account on, but never completed it.

Maybe the requirement of an upfront payment was a problem for you, in which case I'd like to offer you a 7-day Money Back Guarantee on your subscription. If you are not completely satisfied with Grammarly, just contact me within 7-day period and I will refund your full subscription amount. I am confident you'll enjoy Grammarly's breakthrough grammar and plagiarism checking functionality, and would like you to enjoy complete peace of mind in the registration process.

Grammarly is the world-leading writing support solution. Serving over 500,000 users at hundreds of leading colleges and universities worldwide, Grammarly is now available for individual licensing. With such groundbreaking features as 150+ grammar checks, plagiarism detection, vocabulary enhancement and contextual spell check, Grammarly is the ultimate solution for all your writing needs.

I'm also happy to help with any other enquiries you might have regarding Grammarly features, support questions and the like.

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Greg Carpets

Greg Carpets
Individual Account Support
I thought I'd write back to Greg with a little constructive criticism, so I sent him this email:
Hi Greg,

I did indeed previously have some interest in the Grammarly writing support tool. I write a blog called Street-Smart Language Learning, and I thought that your service might be useful for some of my English-learning readers.

However, I never intended to sign up for an account on Your home page contains a big orange button stating that I can "Get started now!" with "No registration required", which I believe most reasonable visitors would take to mean "Get started using Grammarly now!" without actually needing to register. So when Grammarly subsequently asked me to "Sign up now" before showing the results of my correction, I foolishly provided my email only to be told that I needed to create a paid account before being able to see my corrections. Apparently, Grammarly's understanding of "Get started now!" with "No registration required" means "Get started after you register and pay up".

The requirement of an upfront payment would not be a problem for me—if you were upfront about it. Indeed, there is no obvious information about any required payment on your website until after I've (1) clicked on the misleading "Get started now!" button, (2) entered some text to get corrected, (3) clicked on the "Sign up now" link, and (4) entered my sign-up information. Only then am I granted the privilege of being told that I'll need to shell out money to even see the small piece of text I submitted for corrections just to see how well your system works.

So it is safe to say that I am not satisfied with Grammarly at all without needing any 7-day period to review it further, which is a shame because my impression is that your actual product is pretty decent.

Moreover, it's my understanding that Applied Linguistics LLC is a California limited liability company, which means that Applied Linguistics LLC is subject to the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act that regulates commercial email. Now, I'm no expert on the CAN-SPAM Act, but based on this page on the FTC's website, I think emails like the one below need to provide a "clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future". Since you have not so provided, let me just make it clear; I do not want to receive any email from you in the future and hereby opt out from all such mailings. Furthermore, please delete all of my information from your database immediately.

I have posted a blog post entitled "Grammarly: Misleading website kills my desire to learn about their service" on my blog describing this experience. Should you upgrade your website to end these misleading practices, I will be happy to update my post with such information, so please leave a comment there at any time should you do so.


As I noted in my message to Greg, this is really a pity because what they're doing does look pretty cool (can you imagine if Lang-8 had an automatic grammar checker that took care of most things before native speakers even needed to get involved?), and it might even be worth some money to English learners. That said, I can't put a good word in for them until they start treating their potential customers with more honesty.

Update 1: Grammarly was quick to respond to the complaints above. See here for all the communications between us after this post.

Update 2: Grammarly made changes that resolve these complaints. See here.

This post was updated on May 22, 2010, to include links to all posts in this series on Grammarly.


  1. "I do not want to receive any email from you in the future"

    That means Greg Carpets can't respond to your email.

  2. I know. That's why I suggested he comment here.

  3. That's a shame. Like you, even if a product seems pretty cool, being mislead about it is a surefire way to turn me away.

  4. Ti basta bloccare la sua e-mail né.
    Così non riceverai niente e-mail sua fastidiosa.Che ne dici?

    Ma esistono tanti siti come quello.
    li ho beccati tantimissime volte!

  5. Credo che hai ragione, ma non sono riuscito a resistere dal rispondergli!

  6. Ti capisco.
    Cmq tu gli hai già risposto,
    dopo bloccala.
    Non è che ti ho detto "Non rispondergli"
    Anzi hai fatto bene.
    Ci sono tanti siti che ci ingannano e ci pelano.Dando allarme a tutti che studiano le lingue sul internet, hai scritto sul tuo blog questa cosa,vero?

    Fra qualche volta riuscirò a scrivere in inglese...

  7. A representative of Grammarly personally apologized to the author of the blog for the misunderstanding, and the company is taking measures to avoid similar issues in the future.

    But what exactly was misleading? The site promised free grammar check without registration, which was provided. The user did not have to register or pay to evaluate quality of his text. The advertisement of the premium level of service that the user saw after the free check is the way for the web site to finance itself and make its existence possible. The advertisement of the premium level of service specifically mentioned that registration was necessary to proceed and did not promise anything for free. The price of the premium service was also displayed upfront – before the user had to make any commitments. All of these statements are supported by the screenshots the blogger provided.

    It is no more misleading then a free consultation by a dentist or a mechanic. In both cases checking for problems is free and correction of the problems is available at a cost. Both are legitimate business practices. More than that, unlike a free consultation by a dentist, which is useless unless a patient buys further service, free evaluation by Grammarly has value on its own. A free report from Grammarly lets users see if their text is good enough or needs more work, and it gives users a choice to edit the text themselves or to purchase a premium service to get help with editing. And if a user chooses to edit the text without help from Grammarly, the user will not need to pay or register, and will still be able to evaluate the edited version of the text to see if his/her corrections helped.

    So, users do get the promised free evaluation of their texts without registration, they are then offered an OPTION to employ Grammarly premium service to help with corrections or to continue using the free service as many times as they want to see if they were successful in correcting their texts on their own. Users do not have to pay or register unless they CHOOSE to employ premium services from Grammarly, available at a price displayed upfront. Where is the deception? Yes, the free product helps sell the premium service, but so does practically every free product out there.

    Thousands of users repeatedly use free Grammarly reports without buying the premium service, proving the value and legitimacy of the free service. Many buy premium services and stay subscribers for a while. Some use on-and-off tactic, where they use free reports until they really need help with a particular document and then sign up for the premium functionality just for that document. These are legitimate and logical uses of the product. In fact, many users asked us to offer human editing and tutoring services in addition to what’s available, and no one expects those to be free either. So our users want us to have the free service they actively use, and they want us to introduce even more premium services on top of it. The model works and receives user approval practically every minute.

    What is not logical is lashing out at a business for attempting to sell an extra service to the users who took advantage of a free promotional offering. Yes, with software, lines between free and paid are less obvious, and we will take your feedback and will do our best to make these lines even more clear in Grammarly. But how much further do we have to go if you are still unhappy after you 1) got free service as promised; 2) saw the price and terms of usage for a premium service before even having a chance to commit to it; 3) could leave the site at any time without owing anything; 4) received a 7 day free trial offer for the premium service as a courtesy follow up; 5) received a personal apology from upper management after complaining (including free unlimited access to the premium product features as compensation for your worries)?

  8. @Grammarly Team: Thank you very much for the detailed reply. I did receive an email from Max Lytvyn and am preparing a reply to him right now (and will post our emails in a subsequent post).

    Let me just be clear that I have no problem whatsoever with your business model. Both Max's email and your comment above make mention of the same thing, but that is not at all what brought my complaint. Indeed, I encourage you to use whatever works best for you.

    My problem lies in the fact that the messaging on the site can lead you to think that seeing corrections doesn't require registration, when in fact all you can get without registration is a report that tells you whether you need more work or not. This falls quite a bit short of allowing you to "proofread to perfection" with "no registration required". The messaging can create an expectation that you'll be getting one thing on the free side of freemium, but you get another. That is my issue.

    I leave the rest to that subsequent post, but let me just say for now that I think you guys are doing an excellent job of handling my complaints.

  9. Interesting debate. Personally I am constantly annoyed by website shops that offer a service or goods without being upfront about cost. Similarly I will walk out of any shop that does not clearly display prices or price ranges. I object to giving an address just to see the product in the same way that I would object to giving my name and address before being shown a product in the shop. I object to constant mail shots without the possibility of EASILY declining. I would NOT walk into a car showroom and pay for a car before having the chance to PROPERLY try it for myself, even if they promised my money back if I did not like it .. maybe, one day, after a lot of effort on my part... Most honest salasmen, with a product they believe in, have no problem being upfront.

  10. I have spent the last hour trying to determine the monthly subscription price for which led me to this website - thanks for the info! Now I know I can't afford it (student) and won't go through all the signup process to find that out.

  11. i was excited about the opportunity to try Grammarly and i too faced the same issues you did with the same levels of frustration when i couldn't see what the errors were in my document. I received follow up emails and today i received a one month free trial email if i told 10 of my facebook friends about Grammarly, so I thought I'd give it a try. I logged in once and it worked beautifully, but for some reason I have not been able to log in again. It seems that they are having problems with their site. When you click the "Log In" button it tries to connect to the login page, but eventually times out. I tried it with several web browsers and found the same problem. When i read the support/help comments i found that this may be a frequent problem, one user could not login for 2 days and he purchased a subscription. To add to frustration I would like the opportunity to use my free trial... if I can login!

  12. This may not quite reach the level of bait & switch. But i think they're bait-hooking aganst the grain, and they know it... Listen folks; If you don't want to be up front about your prices for your services, then I don't want to know. Buh bye.

  13. I paid for a ONE SINGLE MONTH subscription - PERIOD. Within minutes of taking my $19, I ran a 2 page report though their plagiarism program and IT highlighted 2 areas as "possible plagiarism" that I had already had noted as copied. IT FAILED to recognize a 3rd plagiarized sentence that I had put in parenthesis and noted at the bottom of my paper the author. God knows what else it missed. When I emailed them THE SAME DAY within an HOUR of signing up to cancel Grammarly and asked for a refund - DEAD AIR. I got an acknowledgment your email and NOTHING since. I just notified my bank to reverse the charges. RIP OFF company.

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  16. Vincent!

    Your information is invaluable so I'll ask you for more (its a compliment).

    How would you compare the content and ease of use of Grammerly($20 per month) to something like White Smoke, a flat $80?

    Carol Shansky

  17. In reply to Grammarly Team:
    The internet has been a haven for scam artists and thieves. It is nearly impossible to entrust your personal or financial information to any company that isn't exceedingly well known and positively looked upon. Having seen a great many seedy websites, I have to say the manner in which Grammarly entices would-be subscribers is completely in line with the usual scam sites. The big orange button with "Check Grammar Now! Instant reports with no registration" in no way suggests that you'll have to pay or even register to try the program! Instead a vague and inaccurate report is passed off as the intended preview and the line tied to the hook that the unwitting soul has just bitten is being reeled in! First you want our email and name. We see a 7 day free trial mentioned and it hits us "crap, they want money! Oh well, at least there's a trial that I can put to use to see if it's worth paying for.". If only it were that simple! Now Grammarly demands you give them your credit card, a device purely used for dealing with money, so you can get a free, I repeat free, trial period.
    From stat to finish we have the set up of just about every other scam on the net. Even the site layout fits that of most scam site. In the end, even if we don't give up our money, we still give up something and still get nothing in return. Even if the program works like a dream, it's the product and tool of thieves. Grammarly's preview is not what the user is lead to believe it will be. It is an enticement meant to urge us on, while giving nothing we can even trust to be valid. As a company they can claim that they the preview they provided was all they intended and are therefore not at fault for misleading people; yet people with exemplary linguistic observational skills find themselves disappointed when this diamond turns out to be plastic. How is it not misleading if even people of specialized intelligence fail to clarify the truth, before it is revealed?
    It should be fairly easy to see that Grammarly does not have faith in it's own product or they would present the fact that use of the program will require a paid subscription as the very first thing you see on the home page. Their preview would also give you something to work with instead of a lot of check marks and words that don't have any meaning as their is no visible comparison and, in my case, a lack of accuracy in the assessment. Honestly, how does the machine not catch Shakespeare? Finally, do not trust any site that asks for your credit card, before you mean to pay.

  18. Grammarly is alright but if you are trying to edit a large text it is difficult to use. Not very useful for the average author. Also, the program was advertised as having a 14 day free trial however my credit card was charged immediately and for the last 48 hours has been down for maintence. I'm not very impressed.

  19. Hi, your blog about this matter is very helpful. I think Grammarly is a SCAM. Authorities should promptly act against them.

  20. Dear Vincent,
    I was about to fall in the Grammarly's  trap.   Your article was very useful.    Their website is still misleading.   

  21. Dear Vincent,I was about to fall in the Grammarly's  trap.   Your article was very useful.    Their website is still misleading.

  22. they just suck. I went to their website and felt the same way you described here. 
    Let this product and their server RIP. 

  23. No up front prices for commercial site looked fishy, so I googled it up. Thanks for doing the leg work!

    Grammarly .. do the business above the board!

  24. Hey Vincent,
    Just wanted to inform you and your readers that I too fell into the Grammaly hoax. I wanted to check it out for myself so I took the "7-day free trail". In their form they CLEARLY state that my card would not be charged until after the trail period.
    1st. I could never paste anything to the board. Their service department sent several e-mails the supposed problem then finally informed me to change my browser. I did not.
    2nd. I thought I would try again but an e-mail popped up from Grammarly. I checked it and it said that they had billed my card. I jumped over to my checking account and checked, sure enough, I was only in my first day of my so called free trail and saw that they had billed me for the full amount. I quickly un-subscribed and I have since notified VISA of Grammarly's out right lies. Wish I had read your blog first.
    Live & Learn,

  25. Yes, I also was billed the $19.95.  However, my biggest complaint is the result these services had for my teenage son.  He is 17 and struggles with essay writing.  He found this website and was hopeful that it would help him with his English essay.  In addition to grammar suggestions, the service highlights just about every  word that may be changed by the use of a thesaurus and gives four or five suggestions for replacement.  He used these suggestions and changed many words.  Today I received a call from his school.  They are concerned that this essay is not his own work since it does not appear to be in his " voice".  Of course it is not in his "voice".  It is in the Grammarly voice!  He is lucky that they are allowing him to rewrite it instead of receiving a zero on the assignment.  All of this humiliation and hassle....and I was charged $19.95 for the privilege!

  26. Dear Vincent,thank you for your detailed history about Grammarly, it's very useful get to know about pros and cons of this service. I just read news and can inform you that soon will start to work new spellchecker - grammarbase. It'll check for grammar, punctuation, style, plagiarism and contextual spelling.  Looking forward to check my text there, hope it will be better than Grammarly.  

  27. Basic rule of the internet -- "NEVER give your credit card info for a "FREE" or "Money-back Guarantee" service."

  28. This is a very helpful post, thanks!

  29. I signed up for a trial, but cancelled immediately after. My credit card company just informed me that the company behind Grammarly tried to bill me for a year's subscription; luckily, I had already cancelled the card and was paying off the remaining balance, so new charges were not accepted. But, WTF? I am assuming that they did not process my cancellation and that I will have to go back and check to see whether I paid for a year of this service that I NEVER USED ONCE. Obnoxious.

  30. I came this close to throwing my computer out the window when Grammarly kept saying my texts were not original and had that big plagiarism sign at the top of the list. The text was my own opinion about something. Who was I supposed to copy that? They make you feel almost illiterate just to get you to sign in and pay.

  31. I fell in the Grammarly trap and I am trying to get off.
    The system does not recognize my email so I cannot enter in and unsubscribe or cancel my account. I must go and stop the debit order in the bank.
    furthermore, I installed during the free 7 days trial in Word their application which never worked and I sent a message that I did not track to stop and unsubscribe me.
    They did not do it continuing to charge me for what I am not using without my consent. I will address the mater to IT US Industrial council and to Internet Society for these professional way of steeling money
    any advise?

  32. One of my friends tried Grammarly and said all of our works showed plagarism. Ummmm how can that be if for instance we're sci-fi writers and I am always trying to make sure everything is unique as possible? My opinion is maybe somebody has stolen some of MYy work. Just how vague are Grammarly's comparisons and how much are people wrongly judged on similar wordings that just happen by coincidence?

  33. I completely agree!! I write sci-fi and generate everything myself. I take futuristic concepts sometimes but tweak them big time and create characters from a slew of sources, never a copy paste. Still, a friend said Grammarly flagged stuff in our whole group of critiquers. What a buncha b.s.! I think their system is just that flawed but it still makes them money.

  34. My advice is get into a critique group full of live people or hire an editor or a tutor. The money will be better spent.

  35. Though it does help to maintain a sense of uniformity it is not necessary and many people choose a variety of layouts and templates for their websites depending on the subject matter.