Let’s face it. Even the most editorially-inclined among us has come to rely on the spellchecker as a second set of eyes to minimize spelling gaffs and basic punctuation issues. But maybe your writing issues are deeper than spelling and spacing. For you, there is Phras.In (link here). This web-based, beta tool will take alternative versions of a phrase, run them both through a Google search and compare the results. The phrasing that yields the most hits wins.
Phras.In is built on the assumption that the crowd rules the day. This, of course, is not necessarily true when it comes to proper English grammar and usage. However, it is certainly true of colloqial phrasings or commonly-accepted wordings. Thus, as indicated on the site, Phras.In’s best use might be for someone who speaks English as a second language and who wants to adopt a more natural, native tone.
So, how does it work? You are given two boxes in which to type your alternative phrasings. As you type them, the number of Google hits for the phrases are displayed to the right. The phrase “the cow jumped over the moon” received 48,300 hits, while the phrase “the moon was jumped over by the cow” got a whopping 27 hits, primarily from sites explaining the perils of the passive voice. I knew this because I hit the “contextualize” button, which reveals a few lines from the website surrounding the desired phrase.
Phras.In worked fast and well for general purpose comparison. If nothing else, it saves you the time and effort of crafting your own Google search and reviewing all of the page results. Well done, Francesco!