Did you know that when you use more words than necessary to express something (like blowing wind or frozen ice), you are committing a pleonasm, which is the fancy Greek way of saying you’re being redundant?
Redundancy in writing sounds like a simple thing to spot — and sometimes it is. But some types of redundancy can be tricky to identify, and that’s because we tend to speak in expressions in English, so redundant phrases become little package deals, like a true fact or a free gift. (I hate to break it to you, but if it’s not free, you’re doing gifts wrong.)
Over at Grammar Ghoul Press, we host two weekly writing challenges, both with word limits. When you only have 750 (or 13!) words in which to tell a story, every word counts. Cutting redundancy from your writing can free up some of those precious words and help keep your writing sharp. So let’s look at how redundancy creeps into our writing, and how to eliminate it when it does. In each example, the first sentence contains redundancies, which have been removed or replaced in the second.
- The alien invaders had only one mission: to completely eradicate the human race.
- The alien invaders had one mission: to eradicate the human race.
- In spite of the fact that they were few in number, the aliens possessed superior technology.
- Although they were few, the aliens possessed superior technology.
- It was an unexpected surprise when the Guardians of the Galaxy turned up at exactly the same time.
- It was a surprise when the Guardians of the Galaxy turned up at the same time.
- It is my personal opinion that the invasion came at a time when humanity was at an interstellar crossroads.
- It is my opinion that the invasion happened when humanity was at an interstellar crossroads.
Sometimes, you might want to keep the redundancy because it’s a widely accepted idiom (like safe haven), or because you want to demonstrate emphasis. For example:
- “If captured, it is absolutely essential that you keep your mouths shut,” said Snortgut, the alien commander. “All six of them.”
So the key with redundancy is to be aware of it, and to make informed decisions about when to use it and when to cut it.
If you’d like to learn more, here are a few resources that discuss redundancy (and how to avoid it) in more detail:
- 50 Redundant Phrases to Avoid
- Writing Concise Sentences
- Pleonasms or Tautological Redundancies
- University of Bristol — Improve Your Writing (includes pleonasm exercise)