Definition of descriptive in US English:



  • 1Serving or seeking to describe.

    • ‘There were no flowery. descriptive passages: it was almost entirely a dialogue exchange between the girl and her brother.’
    • ‘I didn't find the plot particularly gripping, but the level of period detail in the book's descriptive passages was excellent.’
    • ‘The tale is more realistic, the characters deeper and troubled and the descriptive passages delightful.’
    • ‘With brief yet descriptive passages moving quickly from one scene to another, he conveys a sustained air of urgency.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘One of the strengths of this book lies in the descriptive passages.’
    • ‘Most interesting to readers of Environmental History will be long, descriptive passages on the natural environment.’
    • ‘A particularly concise and elegant passage of descriptive work comes from a fellow essayist.’
    • ‘This is a handbook, with many tables and lengthy descriptive passages.’
    • ‘The beautiful pictures and descriptive commentary showed what a fine country Zimbabwe is.’
    • ‘The descriptive passages make the reader feel as if he or she is actually present.’
    • ‘This book is primarily a descriptive work, seeking to provide detail about a specific historical missionary activity.’
    • ‘James, who has just returned to school as a Year 10 pupil, chose to write the descriptive passage as a homework task for English.’
    • ‘His descriptive letters painted a picture of life in Tasmania for readers back in England.’
    • ‘The woodland is seen through poetry, descriptive text and a mosaic of pictures.’
    • ‘Some of his descriptive passages are composed with great power and elegance.’
    • ‘Indeed, the book is replete with descriptive detail.’
    • ‘His descriptive passages are often a rhapsodic rush to the edge of sentimentality, only undercut in the final moment by a shift in tone.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    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.
      • ‘Freud recognized that the term ‘unconscious’ was better used as a descriptive adjective rather than as a topographical noun.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘‘Vibrant’ is actually one of the rare descriptive adjectives which I have never turned into an adverb.’
  • 2Describing or classifying without expressing feelings or judging.

    • ‘All good objects will have descriptive and administrative metadata.’
    • ‘What becomes clear is that ‘there are no descriptive facts without interpretive theory’.’
    • ‘The incidence, location, and type of injury, time loss caused by injury, and onset of injury were evaluated by using descriptive statistics.’
    • ‘The study was classified as a descriptive study.’
    • ‘These techniques are referred to as object oriented because they focus on modeling real-world objects, including both descriptive data and behavior.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It serves a descriptive and classificatory purpose only.’
    • ‘As indicated above, we view this range as descriptive, not evaluative.’
    • ‘Survey questions were initially evaluated using simple descriptive statistics.’
    • ‘One descriptive study evaluated the preparation, emotions, and experiences of parents during their child's anesthesia induction.’
    • ‘Classical, descriptive paleontology is very good at dealing with this sort of pattern.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Most of the book is objectively descriptive, be the focus spiritual or scientific.’
    • ‘The purpose of this descriptive study was to evaluate nurses' acceptance and use of an IV catheter safety needle designed to reduce injuries.’
    • ‘Facts (the objective) are descriptive, where events (the exemplary) partake in a process.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The medical record, as a legal document, must contain factual, objective, descriptive data.’
    • ‘This descriptive study sought to develop a profile of women in the agricultural and extension education at the post-secondary level.’
    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 judgments.
      Often contrasted with prescriptive
      • ‘He seems, first of all, to misunderstand that dictionaries of the English language are descriptive, not prescriptive.’
      • ‘Such an analytic and descriptive approach has many advantages.’
      • ‘The main argument concerns the relationship between syntactic, textual, and ideological analysis, and the descriptive methods required in text analysis.’
      • ‘There's definitely such a thing as a syntactic error, even in your native language, even as judged by descriptive linguists.’
      • ‘There have been a number of 20c scholarly grammars of English characterized by a decidedly descriptive approach and a focus on syntax.’


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