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Most books I find on German grammar are precriptive in the sense that they try to describe Grammar by giving some rules. This approaches make the amount of thinking required the language less , but, I personally am also interested in the descriptive way which tries to form a general theory on what constitutes a meaningful German sentence.

Could some recommendation for reading be given?

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The ultimate descriptive grammar of German (in English) may be Peter Jørgensen's German Grammar, translated by G. Kolisko and published by Heinemann in the years 1959-1966. This is now out of print, so you may need to go to a nearby university library, e.g. those included in WorldCat: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3. You can find volume 2 on Archive.org.

If Jørgensen is too detailed for your taste, here are a few alternatives:

  • German: An Essential Grammar by Bruce Donaldson (Routledge, 2006). At 288 pages, this is rather brief, but the publisher describes it as "presenting a fresh and accessible description of the language" (emphasis mine).
  • A Student Grammar of German by Paul Stocker (Cambridge University Press, 276 pages). Even though this book actually contains "rules", it also notes differences between written and spoken German, and variations found in German-speaking countries such as Switzerland and Austria.
  • The Structure of German by Anthony Fox (second edition, Oxford University Press, 2005). A description of the German language in linguistic terms. (At 348 pages, this is still fairly compact for a descriptive grammar.)
  • The Syntax of German by Hubert Haider (Cambridge University Press, 2010). This book is included because the question asked about the construction of German sentences. This book is squarely aimed at linguists who are familiar with terms such as VO, OV, morphosyntactics and infinitival constructions.

In German, the most detailed "recent" grammar is probably Grammatik der deutschen Sprache, in three volumes, by Gisela Zifonun, Ludger Hoffmann and Bruno Strecker (De Gruyter, 1997; over 2570 pages).

The reference I use is Duden – Die Grammatik, which is descriptive and regularly updated. (The ninth edition, published in 2016, has 1344 pages.)

Somewhat older, but still interesting, is Harald Weinrich's Textgrammatik der deutsche Sprache (first edition, 1993) because it uses the unit of the "text" as a starting point, whereas other descriptive grammars tend to begin with phonetics and then go over the diverse parts of speech and rarely discuss text-level grammar.

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It is not heavily theoretical, but Helbig/Buscha: "Deutsche Grammatik: ein Handbuch für den Ausländerunterricht" (Klett) is very descriptive. Many examples and exceptions are listed. It's German, though.

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  • Are you sure this doesn't count as a prescriptive grammar?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 19:56
  • In my undestanding, prescriptive means "that's how it's right, do it like that". This book doesn't make statements like that: it usually just enumerates how phenomena are found to work. But it deals with "standard" language, and Umgangssprache close to standard; in that respect you might call it "prescriptive" of the standard. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 6:36
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You might try: "Deskriptive Linguistik. Grundlagen und Methoden" by Michael Dürr and Peter Schlobinski; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2006, ISBN: 978-3525265185

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    I assumed that the poster was looking for a grammar book in English; an advanced linguistics text wouldn't be much help for someone learning the language. Then again, I had a hard time understanding the question as well.
    – RDBury
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 12:13
  • @RDBury: yes, that might be, on the other hand: if someone is looking for specifically "descriptive" instead of "prescriptive" grammar books "learning the language" isn't likely his primary goal, no?
    – bakunin
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 10:42

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