Printable Version
Pronunciation: nær-rê-tiv Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, adjective

Meaning: 1. (Noun) An account of a series of related events, a story, a yarn, a descriptive discourse of an event or events. 2. (Noun) The text of a literary work aside from the dialogue. 3. (Adjective) Related to story-telling, as a narrative poem.

Notes: This word began its life in the 15th century as an adjective derived from the verb narrate. By the 16th century it was being used as a noun. The action noun of the same verb was and is narration. A story-teller is a narrator. Converting something to a narrative is to narrativize it.

In Play: Anything containing a story line is a narrative: "The mixture of legend and facts provides the historical narratives most of us live with." However, for books it has a specific meaning in both its noun and adjective senses: "You can easily lose the narrative thread among all the characters in Rhoda Book's new novel."

Word History: English again captured today's Good Word in the French language. It had been passed down from Latin narrativus "related to narration". The Latin word was made from the past participle of narrare "to tell, explain". This word was based on gnarus "knowing, skilled, expert" with the loss of the initial G since initial GN made Latin uncomfortable. Latin inherited gnarus from a PIE derivation gno-or- "knowledge", based on gne-/gno- "to know". PIE gno- is the source of English know. English also borrowed ignore and ignorant from French, which built its words on Latin ignorare "to not know, mistake". We also see remnants of the PIE word in ancient Greek gnosi "knowledge", Armenian cancay "to know", Russian znat' "to know", Lithuanian žinoti "to know", and Latvian zināt "to know". (Now a bow to Tomasz Kowaltowski, who first saw the interest beneath the surface of today's relatively ordinary Good Word and recommended it to us all.)

Dr. Goodword,

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