Similarities and Differences Between Prescriptive and Descriptive Grammars

Topics: Linguistics, Grammar, English language Pages: 3 (880 words) Published: February 5, 2012
Grammar contributes to the meaningful linkage between words and phrases, making sense of a language semantically in a socially agreed framework. To achieve this, rules and principles are laid down to produce a uniform structure of a language usage. Concerning about social acceptability, different theories have been employed to result in different types of grammatical description (O’Halloran, Coffin 2005). Meanwhile, as language is in a constant state of flux in terms of phonetics, morphology, semantic, syntax, etc (Yule, 2006). Controversial attitudes towards the emotive language evolve, and hence, bringing out two contrasting views – traditional and modern, which correspondingly lead to Prescriptive and Descriptive Grammar.

This essay serves to outline the comparison between Prescriptive and Descriptive grammars with detailed explanations about their origins and purposes as well as elaborate examples illustrated by the choice of English Language, the lingua franca, to point out their respective approach to English grammar.

Rules of Prescriptive grammar are regulatory. They are based on norms derived from a particular model of grammar approved by influential grammarians (Yule, 2006). Correctness and purity are emphasized whereas change is forbidden. They are most used in formal written language. Conversely, rules of Descriptive Grammar are constitutive. They are based on observations of the authentic language used by the speakers to generalize how it is comprehensively used (McArthur, 1998). Changes are welcome to maintain public acceptability toward the language varieties, without passing any judgments on them

In the study of linguistics, these two terms have been known opposing by definitions and therefore, prescriptive rules are never the descriptive ones, vice versa. This is because of the social context which guides the language used. For instance, although it becomes increasingly common that the verb ‘graduate’ can be used without ‘from’ in...

References: Bryson, B. (1987). The Penguin dictionary of troublesome words (2nd ed.). London, U.K.:Penguin books.
Crystal, D. (2003). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge: C.U.P.
O 'Halloran, K.A. and Coffin, C. (2005) (editors) Getting Started. Describing the Grammar of Speech and Writing, The Open University: Milton Keynes.
Tome McArthur (1988) Descriptive And Prescriptive Grammar. Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Retrieved October 04, 2011 from
Yule, G. (2006). The Study of Language (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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