Prescriptive vs Descriptive Grammar

What are the differences between prescriptive and descriptive grammar? And why does it matter? It is all too common for people to confuse descriptive and prescriptive grammars. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of each type of grammar, and give you some tips on how to use them both effectively.

Learn The Difference Between Descriptive and Prescriptive Grammar

Man comparing prescriptive vs descriptive grammar

Descriptive and prescriptive grammarians alike have their own opinions of what proper grammar is. Let’s review exactly what makes these grammatical forms so different.

What Is Descriptive Grammar?

Descriptive grammar is the study of how language is actually used by speakers and writers.

This type of grammar focuses on the rules that are actually followed by native speakers, rather than prescriptive rules that may be found in a textbook.

For example:

Descriptive grammar would note that many people use the word “ain’t” in informal speech, even though it is not considered proper English. They might also say “anyways” instead of “anyway or use their own form of “goodnight”.

While prescriptive grammarians may criticize this usage, a descriptive grammarian would simply describe it as a common phenomenon.

Remember, it is NOT spelled grammer! We are talking about descriptive grammar with an -AR!

Takeaway: Descriptive grammar is more concerned with describing how language is used, rather than prescribing how it should be used.

What Is Prescriptive Grammar?

Some people believe that if you don’t follow the rules of grammar, you won’t be taken seriously. This is the belief of prescriptive grammarians. It is a more formal type of communication.

Prescriptive grammar tells you what you should do, rather than what people actually do.

For example:

Prescriptive grammar would say that you should always use proper punctuation (like how to hyphenate “in-person”), and that you shouldn’t start a sentence with a conjunction. The formal rules around using the 8 parts of speech also follow prescriptive grammar guidelines.

  • Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but in general, prescriptive grammar is all about following the rules.

Takeaway: Prescriptive grammar focuses primarily on standard forms of grammar and syntactic constructions. While descriptive grammar doesn’t always play by the rules.

Key Differences

Now you know the definitions of these grammatical constructions. Let’s dive into some of the key differences that make these forms of grammar unique.

List of differences between descriptive and prescriptive grammar

1) Principle

Descriptive grammar understands that different people speak and write differently. They do not focus on what is traditionally considered “correct” and “incorrect grammar.” Prescriptive grammar takes the principle that the language usage of native speakers is correct.

For example, look at the words re-use or reuse. The correct spelling is reuse, but some groups of people may choose to add the hyphen. This would be prescriptive grammar!

2) Grammar Rules

Prescriptive grammar sticks to a set of standardized rules. Prescriptive grammarians follow a specific set of rules. However, descriptive grammar does not follow a set of standard rules. The rules can vary based on how native speakers communicate. If you want to make sure you followed prescriptive grammar rules correctly in your sentences, try out our complete sentence checker tool. Our software will give you instant feedbak.

Examples Of Prescriptive Grammar

Examples of prescriptive grammar include:

  • Never split an infinitive
  • Don’t end a sentence in a preposition
  • Always use who when referring to a person

While some of these rules may make sense, others are outdated. Take the grammar rules for have had vs had had. For one thing, they can be difficult to follow- especially when you’re speaking spontaneously.

Examples of Descriptive Grammar

If you want to see some examples of descriptive grammar in action, just take a look at how people use the word ain’t.

Ain’t is technically a contraction of am not, is not, are not, or has not. However, in practice, it is often used as a catch-all negative word, regardless of the verb tense.

For example:

  • You might hear someone say “I ain’t going to do that” or “She ain’t got no sense.”

What Are The Advantages and Disadvantages of Prescriptive Grammar?

Here is a list of the pros of using prescriptive grammar.

  • Standardization, which provides a common set of rules and conventions for language usage. This standardization helps to establish clarity and consistency in communication, ensuring that people can understand each other effectively. P
  • Promotes adherence to established language norms, allowing for a shared understanding among speakers and writers.

Here is a list of the main disadvantages of prescriptive grammar.

  • Potential failure to reflect natural language usage and variation. Language is a dynamic and ever-changing system, influenced by factors such as region, culture, and social context.
  • Can cause a disconnect between prescribed rules and actual language usage, potentially resulting in misunderstandings or exclusions.
  • Can hinder creativity and language development.

What Are The Advantages and Disadvantages of Descriptive Grammar?

Here is a list of the main advantages of using descriptive grammar rules.

  • More accurately reflects natural language usage and variation.
  • Better at capturing the dynamic nature of language, accounting for regional, cultural, and social differences in usage.
  • Is a more inclusive understanding of language, recognizing and valuing the richness and complexity of linguistic diversity.

Here is a list of the main problems with using descriptive grammar rules.

  • Too much ambiguity and lack of standardization.
  • Can cause too many differing interpretations or preferences among speakers, which may hinder effective communication and cause confusion.
  • The lack of standardized rules can make it challenging for learners to grasp and internalize language structures and conventions.

FAQs – Descriptive and Prescriptive Grammar

Q: What are the similarities between prescriptive and descriptive grammar?

There are no similarities between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. However, both are forms of grammar, and both have rules that govern how language is used. However, prescriptive grammar is based on the idea that there are “correct” ways to use language, while descriptive grammar simply observes how language is actually used.

Q: Why are descriptive and prescriptive grammar important?

Descriptive and prescriptive grammar is important because it helps people use formal English speech and writing. It also enables people to clearly and effectively communicate their thoughts and ideas. In addition, proper grammar usage makes it easier for others to understand what you’re trying to say.

Q: What is descriptive and prescriptive grammar examples?

Descriptive grammar is a record of the language as it is actually used by native speakers. In contrast, prescriptive grammar is a set of rules for how the language should be used.
Here are some examples to illustrate the difference between descriptive and prescriptive grammar:
Descriptive: The pronoun “I” is always capitalized in English.
Prescriptive: You should always capitalize the pronoun “I” in English

Q: What are the prescriptive and descriptive approaches to English grammar?

Prescriptive grammar seeks to impose its own vision of what is ‘correct’ language usage, while descriptive grammar focuses on how language is actually used by speakers and writers (Descriptive Grammarian). Most traditional grammar experts the prescriptive approach (Prescriptive Grammarian), laying down strict rules about how words should be used.

Q: What are the prescriptive grammar rules?

Prescriptive grammar rules dictate how a language should be spoken or written. They express a preference for one language format over another. These rules are typically developed by linguistic experts who have studied the language extensively. While prescriptive grammar rules can be helpful in ensuring that a language is used correctly, they can also be quite controversial.

Q: What are the 3 kinds of grammar?

The three main types of grammar are prescriptive, descriptive, and transformational-generative. Prescriptive grammar is the set of rules that dictate how a language should be used. Descriptive grammar is a systematic description of how a language is actually used by its native speakers. Transformational-generative grammar is a type of grammar that focuses on the underlying structure of sentences and how they are related.

Q: What are the two elements of grammar?

In English, there are two main elements of grammar: the subject and the predicate. The subject is the noun or pronoun that denotes who or what is performing the action, while the predicate contains the verb and usually provides more information about the subject. Together, these two elements form a complete sentence.

The Bottom Line

So there you have it—the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammars. Both serve their own purpose, but it’s important to be aware of the differences so that you can use the right form for your writing needs. Now that you know the difference, put those new skills into practice by avoiding these common grammar mistakes!