10 things your spell checker won’t catch

The ubiquitous software is great, of course, but it’s designed to do just so much. Beyond that, you need a set of eyeballs—or maybe more—advises this university admissions consultant.

We urge applicants to have their applications carefully proofread before hitting the “submit” key. That means printing out your application and having it checked for errors “by eye” rather than trusting an automated spell checker to do the job for you.

In case you’re wondering why, here are some examples of mistakes that most spell checkers will not catch:

Homonyms (words that sound the same but mean different things): Spell checkers won’t realize that you intended to write “pair” instead of “pare” or “pear,” or “there” instead of “their” or “they’re.”

Incorrectly divided compound words: Spell checkers won’t tell you that “court yard” should be “courtyard,” or that “yester day” should be “yesterday.”

Incorrect pronouns: Spell checkers won’t realize that you typed in “his” or—worse—”its” when you should have typed “hers,” or “she” when it should have been “he.”

Usage errors: Spell checkers probably won’t alert you to typos involving “its” and “it’s.”

Missing words: Spell checkers probably won’t catch the missing word in a phrase such as, “I attended University of Michigan…”

Wrong words: Spell checkers won’t alert you to a nightmare such as, “My supervisory experience sensitized me to the martial difficulties that married employees can encounter when pressed to work overtime.”

Wrong dates: Spell checkers won’t question a statement such as, “Entering the workforce in the late 0200s, I learned…”

Misspelled proper names: Spell checkers won’t catch mistakes in people’s names or in most place names.

Incorrect verb tenses: Spell checkers won’t warn you that you mixed up past and present tenses.

Repetition: Spell checkers will alert you if you’ve typed the same word twice in a row, but they won’t catch other kinds of repetition, such as typing the same phrase or sentence twice in a row—or saying the same exact thing twice, in different words.

Spell checkers are handy for highlighting many of the small errors we make when we write. They can’t catch every mistake, however, and they’re not able to catch the really big gaffes, which can be recognized and corrected only through careful editing. Use a spell checker as a first step in proofing your application or other text, but don’t count on it to do the entire job.

David Petersam is president of AdmissionsConsultants, Inc., a firm that provides personalized college and university admissions help to clients. A version of this article originally ran on AdmissionsConsultants.com.

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