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 The extremely descriptive names that result from this process can be a mouthful, so the guideline suggests evaluating acronyms for offensiveness too. Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic, "A Virus With a Deadly Boring Name," 31 Jan. 2020 Ginzburg’s essay begins as a descriptive tale of a small Italian town in winter: cavernous kitchens lit by oak fires, prosciutto hanging from the ceilings, women who’ve lost their teeth by age thirty, deepening snow. Maggie Nelson, The New Yorker, "The New Calm," 6 Apr. 2020 Mondor spins stories with wonderful descriptive skills and a sense of humor that doesn’t shy away from the gallows. David James, Anchorage Daily News, "22 Alaska books our reviewers recommend for when you’re hunkered down," 27 Mar. 2020 Hillers’s honesty and descriptive gifts make this one of the great, terrible personal accounts not merely of World War II, but of all conflict. Max Hastings, WSJ, "Five Best: Max Hastings on Diaries of World War II," 31 Jan. 2020 Since 2015, the WHO has recommended that new disease names should include descriptive terms, based on symptoms (e.g., respiratory disease, neurologic syndrome, or watery diarrhea). Sally Satel, National Review, "Inside the Controversy over ‘the Chinese Virus’," 23 Mar. 2020 The police agency must have descriptive information about the child, the suspect or the suspect's vehicle. Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "'Please don't kill me': Neighbors heard screams, called 911 on evening mother, children were last seen alive," 17 Feb. 2020 More or less every shot represents a descriptive line in a screenplay rather than a free observation or a distillation of inner experience; each image checks off predetermined points rather than effecting discoveries. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "When Bad Nazis Happen to Good Directors: Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life”," 17 Dec. 2019 Try to apply only for openings that are truly a good match, then tailor your application and cover letter by selecting the same keywords and descriptive terms used by the employer in the job posting. Sue Shellenbarger, WSJ, "Work & Family Mailbox: Sue Shellenbarger Answers Readers’ Questions," 1 Jan. 2020

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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Time Traveler for descriptive

Time Traveler

The first known use of descriptive was in 1593

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Statistics for descriptive

Last Updated

23 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Descriptive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for descriptive


How to pronounce descriptive (audio)

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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