Watching out for Reiterations: Eliminating Redundancy in Your Writing
Ah, Groundhog Day—my favorite movie. Let’s celebrate Bill Murray’s thousand-something February 2nds in Punxsutawney, PA by talking about redundancy. Redundancy in writing is when you reiterate a repetitive expression or when you repeat a reiteration, which is to say that you said it more than once and in more than one way. (Ha!)
Did you catch those? Of course you did. I don’t claim perfection in this area. A look back at my articles would surely show that I use redundant language often. However, I do try. I like to write long, wordy sentences, but I know my reader doesn’t always wish to read them, so I try to limit my messages to the essentials. That said, I fully admit to hypocrisy.
There are many, many redundant expressions that are common. After you read this article, I guarantee you will see them everywhere—in the media, in your favorite books, in emails from friends and coworkers, in work communications, and in marketing materials. I do not think it’s possible to eliminate them all, but in your writing, being able to spot redundancies can make your writing stronger, clearer, shorter, and fresher.
Here are a few examples of redundant expressions as pointed out by a few of my favorite sources:
According to my favorite guru, Mignon Fogarty (a.k.a. Grammar Girl), redundancy is
a subspecies of wordiness.
Here are a few of her least favorite redundant expressions culled from her book Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and an article on her website called “Are You Annoyingly Redundant?”. (Note: I use my own examples, but borrow ideas from her book and website. Same goes for the other sources mentioned.)
The Reason is Because
The word because implies that you are talking about the reason. To use both words is to doubly explain your motives. Removing one or both of these words can make your sentence much better. Take these examples:
- The reason I went to the store is because I wanted to buy new shoes. (Redundant.)
- The reason I went to the store is that I wanted to buy new shoes. (Better, but still wordy, and you only replaced because with that.)
- I went to the store because I wanted to buy new shoes. (Better yet.)
- I went to the store to buy new shoes. (Best. Although, if this statement is in response to someone asking why you went to the store, then the third example might be the best.)
Past History and Past Experience
Gosh, I feel like I’ve seen either one of these expressions on every job ad I’ve ever answered, and there have been many. Both history and experience are defined as being in the past. In the case of experience, if you are talking about current times or future times, it’s fine to add modifiers to specify that. For instance:
I hope my future experience in this industry is better than my past.
Take what I said in the last section and reverse it.
Whether or Not
Grammar Girl takes this common expression to task claiming that the or not is a bunch of fluff. Consider this sentence:
Fred couldn’t decide whether or not to order the stuffed duck.
It would be much better to omit the or not and simply say:
Fred couldn’t decide whether to order the stuffed duck.
Personally, I don’t think it’s terrible to add an or not to the end of the second example since he could be deciding to order the duck or not to order the duck. If someone has an opinion on that, I’m sure they will share it. The or not is extraneous, but I don’t think it’s redundant.
Seems like the word iterate isn’t used very often, but the word reiterate is used all the time. Iterate means to repeat, so re-iterate means to re-repeat. To reiterate again is to re-re-repeat. It’s because of words like this one that people get so annoyed by redundant expressions.
ATM Machine, HIV Virus, RSVP Please, PIN Number
It’s easy to find examples of these extended abbreviations in many common acronyms (and, yes, initialisms, you know-it-alls). The M in ATM stands for machine, so there’s no need to add the word to the end. The V in HIV stands for virus. The P in RSVP stands for plaît which is French for please. The N in PIN stands for number. You get the idea.
Extend an Invitation
The word invite is sufficient, unless you are talking about literally handing a card with the invitation on it to a person thus extending your arm with the invitation in it. I think I see this used most often in scenarios in which a person is asking to invite someone who was not invited in the first place. In this case, it might seem to make sense, but really, all you need is the word invite. It encompasses all.
The next examples come from the blog on the Oxford Dictionaries site.
Absolutely, Completely, Totally, Exact, Very
Not only are these adverbs and adjectives overused and ubiquitous (haha), but because they get used in redundant phrases so frequently, they have lost much of their impact. When someone says my car was completely totaled, they are just exaggerating to impress you. Totaled implies completeness. If you say something is absolutely necessary, you are just belaboring the point, as necessary has absoluteness built into the definition. Same goes for duplicates which are, by definition, exactly like each other. And something that is unique is different than everything else, so there is no need to hyperbolize by adding very.
This site also has a great example of a paragraph written with 18 common redundancies. Here are a few you might be guilty of using:
- different varieties
- decorative garnishes
- 12 noon
- free gift
- close personal friend
- future prospects
- pair of twins
- annoying pests
- difficult dilemmas
- intense fury
- suddenly exploded
- may possibly
- unexpected surprise
Strunk & White
Amazingly, I could not find a long diatribe in this skinny, silver book on redundancy in general. (The book to which I am referring is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.) I did not, however, reread the thing from cover to cover, so maybe it’s hidden in the discussion of some other peeve. Anyhow, this book does contain some comments on word usage that point out redundancies.
He is a man who
This is a great example of wordy language that has no purpose but to take up more space on a page. (Take note, college students, we know you do that.) When you read this, it’s like the writer has to first state an obvious fact before getting to the point. Yes, he is a man, so? Cut the a and who and just use the verb directly:
He is ________________.
This adverb adds little value to a sentence. Assuming the verbs are conjugated in the present tense, then the addition of currently does nothing. If emphasizing timing is necessary, Strunk & White suggest you be precise and use at this moment instead. Thus:
The police officers are currently interviewing the suspect.
The police officers are at this moment interviewing the suspect.
In my opinion, I would leave both of them out, the verb in present tense is enough information for me.
S & W point out that writers often use this noun “as a mere habit of wordiness” in such expressions as:
actions of an aggressive character
It should be simply:
As to whether/as yet
Just whether or just yet.
The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, 5th Ed.
My trusted LBCH reminds us that
unnecessary repetition weakens sentences.
A few common phrases that they point out are:
- circle around
- consensus of opinion
- cooperate together
- final completion
- important essentials or basic essentials
- puzzling in nature
- surrounding circumstances
I hope I don’t have to explain any of those. I know I am guilty of at least a couple.
Last, but not least
(Is that a redundant expression or just an annoying one?) There is a ridiculously long list of redundant expressions that I found on About.com. Here are a just a few, in alphabetical order:
|(actual) facts||(face) mask||off (of)|
|(advance) preview||(frozen) tundra||(old) adage|
|(advance) reservations||full (to capacity)||(oral) conversation|
|(advance) warning||(full) satisfaction||(originally) created|
|add (an additional)||fuse (together)||output (out of)|
|(added) bonus||G||(over) exaggerate|
|(all-time) record||gather (together)||over (with)|
|(armed) gunman||(general) public||(overused) cliche|
|assemble (together)||had done (previously)||palm (of the hand)|
|B||(harmful) injuries||(passing) fad|
|bald(-headed)||(head) honcho||plunge (down)|
|best (ever)||I||(polar) opposites|
|blend (together)||(illustrated) drawing||postpone (until later)|
|bouquet (of flowers)||incredible (to believe)||proceed (ahead)|
|(brief) summary||indicted (on a charge)||protest (against)|
|(burning) embers||input (into)||pursue (after)|
|cameo (appearance)||interdependent (on each other)||raise (up)|
|cash (money)||introduced (for the first time)||re-elect (for another term)|
|(closed) fist||J||reflect (back)|
|collaborate (together)||join (together)||(regular) routine|
|commute (back and forth)||(joint) collaboration||S|
|compete (with each other)||K||(safe) haven|
|(component) parts||kneel (down)||shiny (in appearance)|
|(constantly) maintained||(knowledgeable) experts||(single) unit|
|could (possibly)||L||sole (of the foot)|
|D||lag (behind)||spliced (together)|
|(desirable) benefits||later (time)||(still) persists|
|(different) kinds||lift (up)||T|
|disappear (from sight)||(live) studio audience||tall (in height)|
|drop (down)||(local) residents||tuna (fish)|
|during (the course of)||look back (in retrospect)||(two equal) halves|
|E||(major) breakthrough||(ultimate) goal|
|earlier (in time)||manually (by hand)||(underground) subway|
|eliminate (altogether)||meet (together)||(universal) panacea|
|emergency (situation)||(mental) telepathy||(unnamed) anonymous|
|(empty) hole||merge (together)||(usual) custom|
|empty (out)||mix (together)||V|
|(empty) space||(mutual) cooperation||vacillate (back and forth)|
|(end) result||N||visible (to the eye)|
|enter (in)||nape (of the neck)||W|
|(entirely) eliminate||(native) habitat||(wall) mural|
|evolve (over time)||never (before)||warn (in advance)|
|(exact) same||none (at all)||weather (conditions)|
|extradite (back)||nostalgia (for the past)||(white) snow|
|(now) pending||write (down)|
There, that should get you started.
Please feel free to list all the ones I miss in the comments section below.
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