de·​scrip·​tive | \ di-ˈskrip-tiv How to pronounce descriptive (audio) \

Definition of descriptive

1 : presenting observations about the characteristics of someone or something : serving to describe a descriptive account
2a : referring to, constituting, or grounded in matters of observation or experience the descriptive basis of science
b : factually grounded or informative rather than normative, prescriptive, or emotive descriptive cultural studies

3 of a modifier

a : expressing the quality, kind, or condition of what is denoted by the modified term hot in "hot water" is a descriptive adjective
4 linguistics : of, relating to, or dealing with the structure of a language at a particular time usually with exclusion of historical and comparative data descriptive linguistics

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Other Words from descriptive

descriptively adverb
descriptiveness noun

Examples of descriptive in a Sentence

She gave a descriptive account of the journey. a talent for descriptive writing a poem full of descriptive detail The black cat was given the descriptive name “Midnight.” The book is a descriptive grammar.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Their important and timely book reminds us that ethics at its best challenges rather than justifies the status quo, which is why a purely descriptive science of ethics is never enough. Julian Baggini, WSJ, "‘Science and the Good’ Review: The Anatomy of Morality," 15 Jan. 2019 Be as descriptive as possible when selling an item. Marina Liao, Marie Claire, "8 Things to Know Before You Buy or Sell on eBay," 14 Dec. 2018 The Lands’ End catalog has reverted to its utilitarian style with product shots and descriptive text. Suzanne Kapner, WSJ, "Elastic Waistbands Are Back in Fashion at Lands’ End," 12 Apr. 2018 The show is a terrifically important addition to our art historical knowledge of the era, as lively and absorbing as its descriptive but rather dry title is not. Christopher Knight,, "Out of the shadows and into the light: 'Chiaroscuro Woodcut' is a sleeper hit at LACMA," 5 July 2018 The descriptive text is quite graphic, mentioning fetish acts and featuring rambling stories that paint women as promiscuous. Chris Morris, Fortune, "Walmart Was Once Again Forced to Pull an Offensive Shirt From Its Website," 12 July 2018 In fact, while each shade has both a numeric and a descriptive name — for example, 18 Deep Sable — nearly half the shades have decimals, indicating subtle variations in undertones. Marci Robin, Allure, "Exclusive: Nyx Is Launching a New Full-Coverage Foundation in 45 Shades," 11 July 2018 Both get in the way of clarity as a reader stumbles through what is otherwise beautifully descriptive prose. Nancy Lord, Anchorage Daily News, "Anchorage novelist tells a gothic tale set among dog mushers in Interior Alaska," 16 June 2018 Each entry features descriptive text about the site, including details about the greenery and wildlife, maps, and visitor information. Michaela Bechler, Vogue, "7 Secret Gardens Where You Can Find Reprieve in New York City," 22 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'descriptive.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of descriptive

1593, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for descriptive

see describe

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Statistics for descriptive

Last Updated

10 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for descriptive

The first known use of descriptive was in 1593

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More Definitions for descriptive



English Language Learners Definition of descriptive

: giving information about how something or someone looks, sounds, etc. : using words to describe what something or someone is like
technical : providing facts about how a language is actually used rather than rules that tell people how it should be used


de·​scrip·​tive | \ di-ˈskrip-tiv How to pronounce descriptive (audio) \

Kids Definition of descriptive

: giving information about what something is like She wrote a very descriptive letter about her trip.

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Comments on descriptive

What made you want to look up descriptive? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


using a distributed computer network

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