Descriptive Grammar Definition

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Descriptive Grammar

A descriptive grammar looks at the way a language is actually used by its speakers and then attempts to analyse it and formulate rules about the structure. Descriptive grammar does not deal with what is good or bad language use; forms and structures that might not be used by speakers of Standard English would be regarded as valid and included. It is a grammar based on the way a language actually is and not how some think it should be.

The idea behind descriptivist grammar is that forms that are used by a substantial part of the speech community are accepted and recognised, but the truth is often far from this.

People who claim to be describing language as it is really used are often wrong in the ideas. For instance, many say that it is wrong to use 'may' for permission because most people use 'can'. This is the reverse of what was taught twenty years ago. However, both positions are wrong as people use both forms. A true descriptivist grammar would state that both forms are correct and that, in many users' cases, 'may' is used to be more polite.

See Also:

Prescriptive Grammar; Syntax



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