Avoiding redundant expressions

What do all the expressions in bold type in the sentences below have in common?

  • They are constantly working on new innovations in gambling.

  • He was the younger of the two twins.

  • The events will start at 11 a.m. on the following dates below.

They are all redundant expressions: groups of words in which at least one word is unnecessary because it just repeats the meaning that's already contained in the other word or words. An innovation is ‘a new method, idea, product, etc.’, so there's no need to use ‘new’ to describe one; following means ‘coming after’, so it's not necessary to say below as well; and as for twins, there can only ever be two of them.

This sort of repetition of meaning is also known as tautology and it's something to be aware of when you're writing. It can give the impression that you don't really understand the meaning of the words you're using, or that you're just careless in your choice of words.

The key to a good writing style that avoids redundant expressions is to develop your knowledge of what words really mean, checking in a dictionary whenever you aren't completely sure.

Here is an outline of some of the main types of redundant expressions.

Different types of redundant expressions

There are several ways in which you can fall into the tautology trap. Here are some of the main types of redundant expression together with tips on how to deal with them.

  • Adjectives that repeat the meaning already contained in the word they describe, e.g.:

In a moment of hopeful optimism, she jutted her chin out.

If you look up optimism in the dictionary, you'll see that it means ‘a feeling of hopefulness about the future’ so there's no need for the word hopeful in this sentence. It would be better to just leave out the adjective altogether:

In a moment of optimism, she jutted her chin out.

Here's another example of an adjective repeating the meaning of a noun:

It was a strange place for both of us to be, given our past histories.

A person's history is the whole series of past events connected with them. There's no need to use the adjective past in this sentence because this meaning is already contained in the noun history. If you remove the adjective, the meaning of the sentence is unaffected:

It was a strange place to for both of us to be, given our histories.

  • Adverbs that repeat the meaning contained in a verb, especially a verb that begins with a prefix such as re- (meaning ‘again’ or ‘back’) or pro- (meaning ‘out’, ‘forwards’, etc.). For example:

On her death, the throne reverted back to the next male in the line of succession.

If you look up revert, you'll find that the dictionary gives the meaning ‘return to (a previous state, practice, topic, etc.)’. Since the idea of going back to something is contained in the verb itself, there's no need to include the adverb back. The sentence would be better if it was just left out:

On her death, the throne reverted to the next male in the line of succession.

Here's another example:

The sign above the door protruded out over the sidewalk.

Protrude means to extend beyond a surface, so the adverb out is unnecessary: it's just repeating the meaning of protrude. We can just omit it:

The sign above the door protruded over the sidewalk.

  • Two or more words or groups of words which mean exactly the same as each other. For example:

The fertilizer had no direct fungicidal effect but nevertheless it completely arrested the spread of the fungus.

Nevertheless and but mean the same thing: if you looked them up in a thesaurus, you'd almost certainly find that they were given as synonyms of each other. You only need one or the other to get your point across:

The fertilizer had no direct fungicidal effect but it completely arrested the spread of the fungus

Here's another example of this type of redundant expression:

The reason for this is because nobody cares

Because means ‘for the reason that’: there's no need to include it in this sentence since this idea has already been expressed. The sentence should read:

The reason for this is that nobody cares.

Key points

  • Getting rid of unnecessary words will make your writing clearer and more effective.

  • Using a dictionary or thesaurus will help you to identify redundant expressions in your writing.


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