Which of "ungrammatical" or "grammatically incorrect" is prefered and why?

  • 1
    Here's the Ngram
    – TsSkTo
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 19:04
  • 3
    Really depends on the audience. This is a bit like asking if "salt" is preferred over "sodium chloride".
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 19:10
  • 3
    @RegDwighт Adding in salt to sodium chloride is like adding insalt to injury.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 19:34
  • Wow, too punny!
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 22:35
  • 1
    Puns are terrible but poetry is verse!
    – Elliot
    Commented Mar 7 at 5:15

5 Answers 5


Both are used, but I believe linguists prefer the former. Grammaticality, as one linguist explained it to me, means "following the rules of the relevant scientific model that is used to describe how people speak". So it is strictly dependent on the model used, but in practice many linguists presume that there is consensus about most elements of the relevant model, so it mostly overlaps with "people actually use this within a certain group and they consider it normal".

The word "incorrect" may suggest that there is something wrong with straying from grammatically; I suspect that linguists do not use this much because they resent the implication. So I think that's why you will mostly see ungrammatical.

  • OED attests the related agrammatism.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 19:32
  • 1
    "Correct" is a judgemental term that presupposes a nonexistent "standard" of usage which one should attempt to emulate in monitored speech and writing. According, at least, to those who have such a "standard" to sell. Linguists do not use the terms "correct" of "incorrect" much, for several reasons. We prefer to study unmonitored speech, instead of efforts to apply some personal -- and inevitably contradictory -- standards of "correctness". We prefer to speak of grammaticality, which is a much better defined concept that's well-known in technical circles. Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 21:10
  • @JohnLawler: So that's what I was saying, right? Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 21:22
  • Maybe. I dunno what you were saying. I only know what I saw and I thought there might be another interpretation, so I posted it. Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 21:55
  • May I add this as further evidence supporting your excellent answer.
    – user 85795
    Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 11:30

"Grammatical" is a modifier. Let's assume someone were to write a scientific article. If the information contained within the article is accurate, but poorly worded, we could say that the article was factually correct but grammatically incorrect.

If someone were to proofread the article and simply claim "This is incorrect" by what metric are they making the statement? The content, or the syntax? By including the modifier, we are now able to clarify the way in which the author was incorrect.

Grammatically incorrect implies the work is factually accurate, but has errors in grammar.


The definition of ungrammatical according to dictionary.com is:

"grammatically incorrect or awkward; not conforming to the rules or principles of grammar or accepted usage: an ungrammatical sentence."

Both are correct.

  • 1
    Phil, welcome to EL&U. Please take a moment to tour the site and check out the FAQ.
    – livresque
    Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 4:16

Gramatical is a term used to describe a phrase or word that follows the rules of grammar. To say something is grammatically incorrect would be like saying it is “right wrong” or “correct incorrect”. The term ungrammatical, on the other hand, suggests the phrase/word is not grammatical or does not follow the rules of grammar.

  • please provide a source to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 5:34
  • 1
    oh, I know the source. It's a recent Grey's Anatomy episode :) Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 5:41
  • This is the "correct" answer!
    – Karl
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 6:36
  • 3
    'Grammatical' may also mean 'pertaining to grammar' and so is a valid style choice. Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 19:59

As per the Ngram report given by TssSKTo, it shows "ungrammatical" is used widely for the sentence having incorrect grammar..

  • 1
    You have spurious As at the start of your sentence. Just say “Per the Ngram report. . . .”
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 21, 2013 at 1:13

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