Difference Between Prescriptive and Descriptive

Prescriptive vs Descriptive

If the question what is the difference between prescriptive and descriptive when it comes to grammar has ever come to mind, then this article is for you. Language not only is a medium of communication, but also it is a great unifying force. The words we use and the way we pronounce them send signals to others about us, what we are and where we come from. There are two approaches of learning grammar of a language called prescriptive and descriptive approaches. These approaches have implications for the study of a language and the social perspective on language. There is a great deal of difference between prescriptive and descriptive approaches that will be talked about in this article.

What does Prescriptive mean?

Prescriptive grammar refers to the rigid rules and regulations of grammar. It is a puritan approach of a language. The school book approach to a language is purely prescriptive in nature. It tries to teach you how you should speak and write the language. Teachers and editors are more likely to follow the prescriptive approach.

Difference Between Prescriptive and Descriptive

What does Descriptive mean?

Descriptive approach, on the other hand, takes into account the way a language is understood and used by the people. It is a more practical approach. Writers mostly follow descriptive approach.

There has always been a debate between linguists and writers about the correct approach to learning a language. While there are many who feel that it is the prescriptive approach that is more important as it makes one learn correct language, those who favor descriptive approach say that it is better to learn a language the way it is written and spoken rather than following a copy book style.

One reason the proponents of these two approaches are hostile to each other is the emotional investment in language. Language is much than merely a medium of expression. It shapes our destiny. This is particularly true for immigrants and their families who have a mother tongue other than English. Kids in these families have a special liking for their mother tongue and feel burdened to learn English, that they have to master to be accepted as being in the mainstream of the society. Both children, as well as adults, have to learn to use slang terms to show the Americans that they are hip and actually a part of the crowd. This is where descriptive approach to learning grammar comes to their rescue as it does not prohibit the use of slang terms.

What is the difference between Prescriptive and Descriptive?

• There are two distinct approaches to learning a language and are known as prescriptive and descriptive approaches.

• Prescriptive approach is textbook knowledge and contains rigid rules of grammar as it should be used.

• Descriptive approach is much more lenient and takes into account how people speak and write the language.

• Though both approaches have the same basic purpose of explaining the rules of grammar, they do it in different ways. Descriptive approach is mostly followed by writers while teachers and editors are more likely to follow the prescriptive approach.


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  1. Noun and gender by Fauban (CC BY-SA 3.0)