Most fields of grammar break down into one of a few different aspects of language and address either how language is viewed and studied or how language is constructed. The study of language is often approached from either a prescriptive or a descriptive viewpoint; both approaches are legitimate but simply have different purposes and goals. A prescriptive approach is one in which the researcher or linguist attempts to better understand the rules of language and how it is constructed, while a descriptive approach usually centers on describing and understanding language in general. Other fields of grammar can be used to break language down into various components such as spelling and parts of speech.
Grammar is generally regarded as the rules of a particular language, and grammarians are people involved in studying and understanding those rules. Most of this study is done through either a prescriptive or a descriptive approach to grammar. A prescriptive grammarian studies language to understand the rules that people impose upon it. This type or study often involves “proper” or “standard” versions of a language and differentiates among various dialects to determine how language is assembled and how meaning is created through that assembly.
A descriptive grammarian, on the other hand, approaches language and grammar without the “rules” in mind. This type of researcher usually studies language as a basic concept, and reviews how language is assembled and used without consideration of “proper” usage. Concepts like “double negatives,” for example, may be seen by a prescriptive grammarian as a violation of the rules of language based on how meaning may become confused through the use of such phrases. A descriptive approach to grammar, however, is likely to view such phrases as legitimate and instead look to understand how the “double negative” is used to add emphasis or create subtle meaning.
Grammar can also be approached from a number of different angles to better understand linguistic rules by breaking them down into separate categories. Spelling, for example, is likely to be important to those who study written language, while it is far less important for a linguist who studies spoken language. Both researchers, however, are likely to be interested in different parts of speech and studying how people assemble words together in both spoken and written language to create meaning.
Other aspects of grammar may be utilized more by grammarians and researchers than by those who simply use language to express ideas. Syntax, for example, is a grammatical concept related to how words are assembled to express a complete idea, such as word order in sentences. This is not something that most speakers consciously think about, but it is important to a grammarian studying language and understanding how meaning is created and expressed.