DESCRIPTIVE vs. PRESCRIPTIVE
What is descriptive grammar?
• "describes" how language is used by its
• does not deal with what is good or bad
• E.g.: I am older than her.
• Explanation: Subject pronouns (she, he, it, and
so on) are paired with a verb, whereas object
pronouns (her, him, it, and so on) are not.
• Observe principles that describe the way the
language is actually spoken
• The goal of the descriptive approach is a
description and knowledge of rules
(principles) of how the language is actually
What is prescriptive grammar?
• "prescribes" how speakers should use the
• rules about the structure of a language.
• deals with what the grammarian believes to
be right and wrong, good or bad language use;
not following the rules will generate incorrect
• a set of rules and examples dealing with the
syntax and word structures of a language,
Examples of common prescriptive rules
• Do not use ‘ain’t’
• Do not use a preposition to end a sentence
• Pronounce the -ing at the end of words, not -
• E.g.: I am older than she (is older).]
• than' is a conjunction; it joins two like forms:
"I am older" with "she is older", giving "I am
older than she is older", but speakers omit the
last part "is older" because it's redundant.
Nevertheless, according to prescriptive
grammar, 'than' functions as a conjunction, so
speakers should use "she" in that context.
• Attitudes toward language based on what is
held to be “correct” by socially prestigious
elements and by teachers
• This attitude evinces complete disregard for
the way a community actually speaks
Similarities in Differences
• Both are concerned with rules.
• Des.Gram (linguists):
study the rules or patterns.
• Pres.Gram (teachers, editors):
lay out rules about what they believe to be
the “correct” or “incorrect” use of language.