Definition of descriptive in English:



  • 1Serving or seeking to describe.

    ‘the text contains some good descriptive passages’
    • ‘This book is primarily a descriptive work, seeking to provide detail about a specific historical missionary activity.’
    • ‘The woodland is seen through poetry, descriptive text and a mosaic of pictures.’
    • ‘His descriptive passages are often a rhapsodic rush to the edge of sentimentality, only undercut in the final moment by a shift in tone.’
    • ‘Some of his descriptive passages are composed with great power and elegance.’
    • ‘His descriptive letters painted a picture of life in Tasmania for readers back in England.’
    • ‘The prose is workmanlike but plain; the author makes no attempt to spice it up with colorful quotations, amusing anecdotes, or passages of descriptive writing.’
    • ‘The descriptive passages when she has tea with friends, or tends her garden, or shops for blouses to fit her ample bosom are a pleasure and add a completeness to the character.’
    • ‘With brief yet descriptive passages moving quickly from one scene to another, he conveys a sustained air of urgency.’
    • ‘The descriptive passages make the reader feel as if he or she is actually present.’
    • ‘This is a handbook, with many tables and lengthy descriptive passages.’
    • ‘One of the strengths of this book lies in the descriptive passages.’
    • ‘A particularly concise and elegant passage of descriptive work comes from a fellow essayist.’
    • ‘Indeed, the book is replete with descriptive detail.’
    • ‘Most interesting to readers of Environmental History will be long, descriptive passages on the natural environment.’
    • ‘James, who has just returned to school as a Year 10 pupil, chose to write the descriptive passage as a homework task for English.’
    • ‘The tale is more realistic, the characters deeper and troubled and the descriptive passages delightful.’
    • ‘One has the sense of an actual, as opposed to a fictional, narrator forced to convey a plethora of background information about his characters, at the expense of descriptive detail and incident.’
    • ‘The beautiful pictures and descriptive commentary showed what a fine country Zimbabwe is.’
    • ‘I didn't find the plot particularly gripping, but the level of period detail in the book's descriptive passages was excellent.’
    • ‘There were no flowery. descriptive passages: it was almost entirely a dialogue exchange between the girl and her brother.’
    illustrative, expressive, pictorial, depictive, graphic, picturesque, vivid, striking
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    1. 1.1Grammar (of an adjective) assigning a quality rather than restricting the application of the expression modified, e.g. blue as distinct from few.
      • ‘As the number of negative descriptive adjectives increased, so did the youths' self-reported involvement in delinquency.’
      • ‘Sometimes the descriptive noun phrase has already been used in a previous clause, and to avoid repetition, the anaphor such is substituted.’
      • ‘As stated earlier, the present study utilizes a semantic differential scale which was comprised of six contrasting descriptive adjectives.’
      • ‘Freud recognized that the term ‘unconscious’ was better used as a descriptive adjective rather than as a topographical noun.’
      • ‘‘Vibrant’ is actually one of the rare descriptive adjectives which I have never turned into an adverb.’
  • 2Describing or classifying in an objective and non-judgemental way.

    • ‘One descriptive study evaluated the preparation, emotions, and experiences of parents during their child's anesthesia induction.’
    • ‘These techniques are referred to as object oriented because they focus on modeling real-world objects, including both descriptive data and behavior.’
    • ‘Despite these limitations, descriptive studies, interpreted with suitable caution, can offer some useful insight to complement the data from studies using randomisation.’
    • ‘The qualifying examinations were never objective, but descriptive.’
    • ‘The bulk of the volume consists of descriptive and interpretive catalogue entries for each mask.’
    • ‘Each portrait includes a descriptive evaluation of each space and a precis of its legal requirements, accompanied by a photograph and a scaled schematic site plan.’
    • ‘Survey questions were initially evaluated using simple descriptive statistics.’
    • ‘The medical record, as a legal document, must contain factual, objective, descriptive data.’
    • ‘The purpose of this descriptive study was to evaluate nurses' acceptance and use of an IV catheter safety needle designed to reduce injuries.’
    • ‘Most of the book is objectively descriptive, be the focus spiritual or scientific.’
    • ‘It serves a descriptive and classificatory purpose only.’
    • ‘What becomes clear is that ‘there are no descriptive facts without interpretive theory’.’
    • ‘Classical, descriptive paleontology is very good at dealing with this sort of pattern.’
    • ‘Facts (the objective) are descriptive, where events (the exemplary) partake in a process.’
    • ‘As indicated above, we view this range as descriptive, not evaluative.’
    • ‘The study was classified as a descriptive study.’
    • ‘This descriptive study sought to develop a profile of women in the agricultural and extension education at the post-secondary level.’
    • ‘All good objects will have descriptive and administrative metadata.’
    • ‘The incidence, location, and type of injury, time loss caused by injury, and onset of injury were evaluated by using descriptive statistics.’
    • ‘Even when intended to serve merely as descriptive terms of classification, the terms carry much historical and ideological baggage that bears on human rights concerns.’
    explaining, describing, illustrative, illuminative, elucidative, elucidatory, explicative, evaluative, interpretive, expository, revelatory, by way of explanation
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    1. 2.1Linguistics Denoting or relating to an approach to language analysis that describes accents, forms, structures, and usage without making value judgements.
      Often contrasted with prescriptive
      • ‘Such an analytic and descriptive approach has many advantages.’
      • ‘There have been a number of 20c scholarly grammars of English characterized by a decidedly descriptive approach and a focus on syntax.’
      • ‘The main argument concerns the relationship between syntactic, textual, and ideological analysis, and the descriptive methods required in text analysis.’
      • ‘He seems, first of all, to misunderstand that dictionaries of the English language are descriptive, not prescriptive.’
      • ‘There's definitely such a thing as a syntactic error, even in your native language, even as judged by descriptive linguists.’


Mid 18th century: from late Latin descriptivus, from descript- ‘written down’, from the verb describere (see describe).