As I was looking for a grammar and style plugin for a word processor to help catch my grammar and style errors. I found LanguageTool. On that page I typed the phrase "I can has cheeseburger?". The correction it made was from has to have.

Is the phrase "I can have cheeseburger?" correct or is this not a good tool to use?

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    Note that "I can has cheeseburger" is perfectly grammatical. Just not in English. dashes.com/anil/2007/04/cats-can-has-gr.html – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Sep 24 '13 at 20:42
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about grammar-checking software, rather than the English language. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 24 '13 at 21:30
  • If there were a cheeseburger-flavored jelly bean... – luser droog Sep 24 '13 at 21:58
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    I close-voted mainly because of the request for OpenOffice plugins. (But I'm not sure the rest of the question has enough meat on it anyway.) – Bradd Szonye Sep 25 '13 at 2:34
  • I edited the question to be about grammar and the English language rather than software. – Four_0h_Three Sep 25 '13 at 18:16

"I can have cheeseburger" while a little odd could potentially be grammatically correct. The question is whether "cheeseburger" is uncountable or not. In most cases it would be countable, and consequently "I can have a cheeseburger" would be appropriate.

However, one could certainly imagine this discussion:

Me: You have a restricted diet, what protein can you have?
You: I can have fish.
Me: And beef?
You: Yes, even with dairy; I can have cheeseburger.

This is certainly a little contrived. For sure the "I can have fish" is perfectly acceptable, since fish can be either countable or uncountable. Whether cheeseburger can be both is in the category of "perhaps".

Expecting an automated grammar checker to separate the bone from the marrow here is asking a little much. I think the above use is legitimate, but others might think it too contrived to be acceptable. Watch the vote count to see!

It is true that I can have approval, or I can have disapproval.

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    It wouldn't sound contrived at all with "I can have cheeseburgers." A valiant effort, though :^) – J.R. Sep 24 '13 at 18:59
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    Note that "I can have hamburger" is totally acceptable and unremarkable. Apparently when one adds cheese, hamburger becomes countable. – horatio Sep 24 '13 at 19:10
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    @horatio hamburger can be a sandwich (countable) or ground meat (uncountable). I am not aware of an uncountable definition for cheeseburger. – emory Sep 24 '13 at 19:15
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    @neminem - I wouldn't call those cheeseburgers, I'd call them hamburgers with cheese. (In my mind, a cheeseburger is a hamburger with a slice of cheese.) That said, it's a bit of a grey area – as grey as the inside of a medium-well burger fresh off the grill. If you were serving me one, I'd let you call it anything you wanted! :^) nom nom nom – J.R. Sep 24 '13 at 22:27
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    @emory: The 'ground meat' definition was the original, from 'Hamburger steak'. And you could imagine McDonalds having a yard of cheeseburger in the kitchen, cutting off a slice for every order. (Note to lawyers: a point about grammar, not defamation of your fine restaurants.) – Tim Lymington Sep 24 '13 at 22:31

Grammar checkers are only capable of checking the limited set of rules they have been programmed to check - in this case presumably subject-verb agreement. They don't really check your grammar. They may be useful as a tool for spotting mistakes you could find yourself, but I wouldn't trust them any more than that.

In your case you gave it a deliberately mangled sentence, which is a bit of an unfair test. I don't think many automatic grammar checkers suggest changing word order anyway, there are too many permutations, and changing the word order can change the meaning of a sentence significantly.

(I know this is more of a comment, but it was too long, and besides the answer the question needs may not be the answer the questioner was looking for)

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    You're right; this fact can't be emphasized enough. Also the fact that almost all English grammar textbooks used in schools are full of errors and false rules. – John Lawler Sep 24 '13 at 16:32
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    As Sapir said, "All grammars leak." Even the most sophisticated grammars constructed by linguists will sometimes accept sentences that most native speakers reject and they will sometimes reject sentences that most native speakers accept. The problem with books used in school is that they sometimes contain "rules" that were simply made up by someone. Not ending a sentence with a preposition and not splitting infinitives are probably the worst English examples. – Greg Hullender Sep 24 '13 at 20:47
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    @GregHullender, this isn't just a linguistics problem, "generally avoid" becoming "don't" is just an example of the (necessary) simplification involved in teaching especially at the lower levels. The problem comes when this isn't unlearnt. – Chris H Sep 25 '13 at 14:41

"I can has cheeseburger" is ungrammatical, but so is "I can have cheeseburger." Correct would be "I can have a cheeseburger."

However, I suspect you really want to ask the question, "Can I have a cheeseburger?"

  • Correct "Can I have a cheeseburger?" or "May I have a cheeseburger?" is what I was expecting for it to correct to. – Four_0h_Three Sep 24 '13 at 16:09
  • @PseudoReality You mean you expected it to notice the question mark? That's rather demanding for a machine. – Andrew Leach Sep 24 '13 at 16:42
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    Actually, I can come up with a "rescue reading" for "I can have cheeseburger?" Speaking to someone with dietary restrictions who isn't allowed to eat hamburgers. "But you can have a pizza with any of these flavors."--"Really? I can have cheeseburger?" That is, not a cheeseburger, but a cheeseburger-flavored pizza. We did a lot of this in my semantics classes at UW. (Rescue readings, that is; not eating pizza.) – Greg Hullender Sep 24 '13 at 17:01
  • It doesn't look like that's what the OP wanted to ask. – Kris Sep 25 '13 at 6:20

Built-in grammar checkers are like machine language translators: while they can detect some egregious errors, they are by no means capable of replacing experience and education.

In this case, the software detects I can has, which is never correct, and so flags it for correction to can have. It does not detect that cheeseburger is usually a count noun and would ordinarily take an article, e.g. I can have a cheeseburger.

But "ordinarily" is not the same as "never." It would be quite difficult to develop software that can detect such subtleties, because cheeseburger* may not in fact refer to a countable food. It could be an adjective for a type of meal. It could be used as a mass noun, say, if ground beef and cheese were mixed up and used as a pizza topping. It could refer to a flavor, as for a packaged snack food. It could refer to a red, yellow and brown color scheme. It could be a newly coined philosophical concept, or dance move, or architectural element, or anything else the author may have defined upstream in the document. And in any of those cases, yes, I can have cheeseburger would be completely correct.

Context makes all the difference.

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