Descriptive versus prescriptive grammar I still haven’t recovered from the revelation that “grammatical mistake” isn’t a mistake. English grammar is basically pattern recognition. Once we recognize an established pattern in the language we attempt to maintain it. Prescriptive grammar (which attempts to dictate how people should speak) eventually derives from descriptive grammar (how people actually speak). Of course, “ain’t no denyin’,” that what some grammarians might take for egregious, fossilized errors, Everyman accepts as just “speakin’ plain.” Can a mistake be grammatical? It may be swimming against the current, spitting into the wind, and [insert your own cliche here] to challenge the evolution of the language and attempt to manipulate prescriptive grammar, but that’s what we pedants do. Inspired by the expression “grammatical mistake,” I have come to surmise that there is something rotten in the state of English grammar. Adjectives that end in "
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I asked a version of this question on Quora , naively and mistakenly assuming that I would launch a groundswell of support to stop people from using the expression “grammatical mistake.” It seemed pretty obvious to me that something was either “grammatical” or a “mistake”; it couldn’t be both. The word “grammar” is used as a noun modifier (actually every noun in the language can be used as a modifier), which we use for “grammar book,” "grammar teacher,” "grammar lesson,” so clearly the correct expression must be “grammar mistake.” Imagine my surprise with the unanimous responses that there is nothing wrong with “grammatical mistake.” I must admit that I was trying to be a bit too cute in how I formulated the Quora question: “Isn’t the expression ‘grammatical mistake’ a grammar mistake?” As a number of my respondents pointed out, “grammatical mistake” isn’t a grammar mistake because it combines an adjective and a noun. That’s how grammar works. The express