Are you loving McDonald’s popular slogan?
“I’m lovin’ it!” became even more popular when the fast food chain launched its first global advertising campaign in 2003. Suddenly, everywhere you go, you hear people say “I’m lovin’ it.” What used to be considered incorrect is now being used on a daily basis.
But isn’t that what language is all about? I will always remember what a friend (English professor) told me: “Language is dynamic. It continuously evolves, and that’s the beauty of it.”
While I totally agree with that idea, I sometimes cannot help but flinch when I hear something that is prescriptively incorrect but descriptively acceptable. There – I’ve used those two terms that have been subjects of too many discussions/debates/arguments.
Let’s take a quick look at the difference between the two.
This is grounded in the traditional rules of usage. The kinds of verbs, verb tenses, and every other grammar rule and application – these are all covered by prescriptive grammar.
- She always gives me good advice.
- I am not going to the beach.
- I want a burger so badly!
The idea behind descriptive grammar is taking a look at how people use the language on a daily basis. The traditional rules then, are not that important, and new rules are created as manifested by how people actually use the language.
- She always gives me good advices.
- I ain’t going to the beach.
- I want a burger so bad!
Which one is correct? It depends on what you adhere to! Pure prescriptivists will tell you that there is no other way to really learn the language than to adhere to the rules. There are reasons why rules have been set in place, after all.
On the other hand, those who adhere to the ideas of descriptive grammar will present arguments along the lines of language changing to meet the needs of the people speaking it.
I suppose the question that we have to face as freelance writers is which school to follow. I have to be honest and say that I lean towards prescriptive grammar in most cases. When I taught English as a Foreign Language, I made it a point to ALWAYS teach prescriptive grammar to learners in the beginner and intermediate levels. Only when they reached really advanced levels would I even begin to be open to descriptive grammar. My reasoning is that people learning a language have to know the rules in order to have a solid foundation. Once the foundation is built, then we can take a look at descriptive usage.
When it comes to writing, I follow the same principles as much as possible. I try to stick to the rules and use prescriptive grammar. Notice the emphasis on try – I cannot deny that I have somehow fallen into the clutches of descriptive grammar. When I speak with friends or write for personal purposes, I am sure to use descriptive grammar every once in a while.
Of course, there are phrases that I would never accept (well, maybe never is a strong word), but I have no issues about saying “I’m lovin’ it,” especially if I am at the beach soaking up the sun.
Note: So why is “I’m lovin’ it” incorrect according to prescriptive standards?
why is “I’m lovin’ it” incorrect according to prescriptive standards?
Noemi Twigg says
Albert, it’s because love is a non-continuous verb. Verbs such as love, like, hate, etc. are usually (prescriptively) not used in the continuous (-ing) form. 🙂
David L Rattigan says
I think even saying that prescriptivism is “grounded in the traditional rules of usage” concedes too much. Much of what passes as traditional rules is arbitrary and doesn’t even conform to “tradition.” See, for example, Geoff Pullum’s fairly blunt critique of The Elements of Style: http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497
Noemi Twigg says
Thanks for that link, David. It was a very thought-provoking read.
Chris Pryer says
You took the words right out of my mouth, Noemi. I’m a fan of descriptive language but only in the “appropriate” environment. Like you, I believe everyone should have a basic understanding of prescriptive language first before engaging what I call ‘street speech.’