How To Avoid Mistakes When Writing Rules

There are many ways you can make mistakes in grammar rules. In case of XML-formatted rule files, there are recurrent mistakes such as:

  • Hasty generalization
  • Bad suggestions
  • Errors in regular expressions
  • Badly encoded exceptions
  • Untested corrections
  • Lack of exceptions for skipping

Hasty generalization

Hasty generalization creates false positives (or reduces precision) of rules. It's advisable to look at community reports at community website and try to remove over-general rules.

How to fix:

  • Try adding exceptions.
  • If this doesn't help, you could add disambiguating rules (if the language has a disambiguator). Or add a disambiguator.

Bad suggestions

Sometimes, instead of correct forms, suggestions contain only messages that explain the kind of error. Note that will offer these suggestions as replacement for the matched error in the document.

How to fix:

  • Offer only real suggestions in the <suggestion/> tag.
  • Add correction attribute to the example marked as incorrect="yes" to test whether the suggestion offered is correct during JUnit tests.

Errors in regular expressions

One of the common problems is not using parentheses () to group disjunctive groups in case of regular expressions with spaces. For example, "A" would match any POS tag in case it contains "A". But when used in an exception, you want to exclude exactly A. This is a bad way:

<exception postag_regexp="yes" postag="!A"/>

The correct form:

<exception postag="A"/>

This way it would match the POS tag as a whole string – this is what you actually want. Regular expressions have limited ways of expressing negation (via sets like this: [^A]) but using something inside an exception enables you to negate the POS tag. In normal tokens, you can use negate_pos="yes" as a negation operator, like here:

<token negate_pos="yes" postag="A"/>

How to fix:

  • Test your regular expressions. There is a great plugin for Eclipse called QuickREx and other similar tools.
  • Look out for spaces!
  • Try to put into examples the forms matched by many different parts of the regular expression so that they will be automatically tested.

Badly encoded exceptions

Exceptions in the rules can remain untested if they are not accompanied by example marked as correct. Otherwise, you don't really know if the exception does work.

How to fix:

  • Add real-world examples which were intended to be excluded by exceptions as correct examples. There can be many correct examples for a rule, use it.

Untested corrections

Sometimes the corrections are quite not like the author intended - the ordering of tokens encoded as \1, \2 or <match no="1"…/> can be broken, etc.

How to fix:

  • Make an incorrect example and add correction attribute to it to see if what your suggestion produces, especially if you're creating a complex suggestion that uses existing tokens, changes their grammatical form etc.

Lack of exceptions for skipping

Skipping enables matching non-contiguous sequences of tokens. However, some sequences (such as noun phrases or verb phrases) might be broken by punctuation characters, intervening connectives, other verb forms etc. In Constraint Grammar, there is a notion of Barrier that specifies such breaking-elements. In LanguageTool, we use exceptions for skipping (with scope="next"). Add as many exceptions as necessary.

How to fix:

  • Don't leave skip="1" on a token without an accompanying exception with scope="next" (default value of the scope attribute). This exception will be matched over the skipped tokens.
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