Yogi Berra coined many humorous turns of phrase. “It’s déjà vu all over again” and “I never make predictions, especially about the future” are two of his best riffs on redundancies. The latter example is funny because nearly all predictions are about the future. But how often do we hear something like “We predict our future earnings will grow” instead of just “We predict our earnings will grow”?
Redundancy in writing/speaking means you’re using too many words to get your point across. Wordiness, my friends, does not make you smarter. It just makes you wordy. I admit that everyone — and I mean everyone — peppers adverbs over casual conversation to show magnitude.
“That was an insanely delicious meal” has a little more oomph than “That was a delicious meal.”
“The piece is truly one-of-a-kind” sounds better than “The piece is a one-of-a-kind.”
I also admit that many well-loved idioms or phrases are redundant to emphasize a point. Take “forever and ever” or “I myself” or “exact same. And sometimes, we are redundant to ensure information gets across. We say PIN number, ATM machine, and Please RSVP even though the extra words — number, machine, and please — are implicit within the acronym.
I am not here to suggest you rework all of these phrases within your vocabulary. In certain instances, you do need all of the words. Hyperbolize and emphasize until the cows come home, as long as you know that some of these trimmings do not have a place in polished writing or speaking.
WHY AVOID REDUNDANT WORDS?
To get technical for a sec, a word that adds nothing to a sentence is called a pleonasm, and a word that repeats the meaning of another word in an expression is called tautology. Both are examples of redundancies and can often be omitted when you’re trying to come across as professional — be it on social media or in the board room.
In many cases, you can cut out the superfluous word(s) and sound more confident — especially in professional writing and speaking. Glaring redundancies — like all grammar blunders — can distract your reader, chip away at your credibility, and undermine your intention. Look at these phrases:
She entered into the room.
He raised up his hands.
I saw four different species.
At the present time, we have no rooms.
I wrote down my grocery list.
into the room.
up his hands.
I saw four
the present time, we have no rooms.
down my grocery list.
Now, let’s look at some common phrases that might be redundant in polished writing.
The prefix re- means back or again and occurs in many words. Refer, respond, revert, reply, retreat, reflect, etc. In most of these cases, you don’t need the work back.
INSTEAD OF: Please refer back to the report from last week.
JUST SAY: Please refer to the report from last week.
INSTEAD OF: When I reflect back on the trip, I smile.
JUST SAY: When I reflect on the trip, I smile.
INSTEAD OF: The toddler reverted back to his baby voice when his little sister arrived.
JUST SAY: The toddler reverted to his baby voice when his little sister arrived.
Innovation means a new product, idea, method, etc. You don’t need to qualify it with the moniker new. It’s implied in the definition.
INSTEAD OF: She will unveil the company’s new innovations at the meeting.
JUST SAY: She will unveil the company’s innovations at the meeting.
To annihilate means to completely remove, wipe out, destroy, cancel, or void. You can’t half-heartedly annihilate something. Again, this one is used in casual conversation a lot, but savvy writers should remove adverbs like completely or totally to show the reader you know what annihilate means. They likely do, too.
INSTEAD OF: The hurricane completely annihilated part of the North Carolina coast.
JUST SAY: The hurricane annihilated part of the North Carolina coast.
This is less a redundancy than a technicality. We throw around the word unique way too loosely. Something unique actually cannot be very unique. Unique means one-of-a-kind. You can’t be very one-of-a-kind. Something is either one-of-a-kind or not.
6 a.m. in the morning
Just leave off “in the morning.” Let p.m. and a.m. do their jobs!
This is basically saying obviously obvious or blatantly blatant. Blatant and obvious are so similar in meaning that something can rarely be blatant without being obvious, just as something can rarely be obvious without being blatant. Although this phrase is used effortlessly in casual speech, avoid it in formal writing.
All warnings and reservations should happen before the occurrence. A warning is an advance notice of possible or impending danger, problems, or events. A reservation occurs from the act of setting something aside for future use.
INSTEAD OF: Give me some advance warning before the boss shows up.
JUST SAY: Give me some warning before the boss shows up.
INSTEAD OF: Advance reservations are recommended.
JUST SAY: Reservations are recommended.
Big/small in size | Red/brown/etc. in color | Rate of speed
People love to employ phrases like this to sound smart and fluff up their dialog. You will often hear news anchors or presenters make this type of redundancy snafu. We know that big and small indicate size. And that red/brown/white/etc. are colors. Reword for succinctness and avoid sounding needlessly wordy.
INSTEAD OF: The lost dog is small in size and brown in color.
JUST SAY: The lost dog is small and brown.
INSTEAD OF: The plane was moving at a high rate of speed
JUST SAY: The plane was moving at high speed.
A surprise is inherently unexpected. It’s to feel wonder, astonishment, or amazement at something unanticipated.
INSTEAD OF: The tests led to an unexpected surprise.
JUST SAY: The tests led to a surprise.
OR: The tests led to an unexpected result.
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