Wordsleuth (2002, volume 35, 3): Redundancies—Again

Sheila Sanders
(Terminology Update, Volume 35, Number 3, 2002, page 29)

Have you ever come across redundancies in an article? No doubt you wished the author had taken the time to remove those unnecessary words that duplicate information. Even worse is finding needless repetition in your own work. (I am not referring to a writer’s deliberate use of redundancies for emphasis or style.) How do those pointless words get in there? Well, sometimes redundancies are easy to spot, and therefore easy to eradicate. For example, after reading the sentence

  • Training is not as effective when staff members have to rush to return back to work.

you decide back in "return back" is redundant, because return means to bring back or go back. Instead, the sentence should read:

  • Training is not as effective when staff members have to rush to return to work.

However, many times redundancies surreptitiously fasten to pat phrases, which we repeat without pausing to think about what we are writing. For instance:

  • The Notice of Compliance with Conditions should not be limited to only drugs that qualify for priority review.

"Limited to only" is a frequently heard expression, but is it redundant? Yes. Limited suggests restriction, so "limited to only" is unnecessary.

One type of redundancy is the pleonasm, an expression where one or more words are unnecessary because their meaning has already been expressed or implied, as in:

  • Legal Aid Delivery Models in Canada: Past Experience and Future Directions

In this sentence, because experience refers to what has passed, "past experience" is a pleonasm.

Do you have a keen eye when it comes to detecting needless repetition? Try your hand, er, your eye, at the sentences below, and see how many redundancies you can spot in the left-hand column. The right-hand column identifies and explains the redundancies. All the samples were taken from government sources, including Hansard. You may be surprised to find how many redundant expressions you unconsciously use.

How good are you at recognizing redundancies?
Sentences Containing Redundancies Identification and Explanation
Our new recruit has been responsible for the French version of Canada Export for the past year. A recruit is a newcomer; therefore a new recruit is redundant.
As we make future plans for Bayanihan, we would like to ensure that our readers and partners are well served. As one can make plans only for the future and not the past, future is an unnecessary modifier in future plans.
There is a long litany of things that have happened over the last 20 years which in themselves have reduced the power of Parliament. Because a litany is a lengthy discourse, long litany is a pleonasm.
We have an opposition party that is retreating back into the romantic past, trying once again to dig up the old speeches that were written 30 or 40 years ago. Retreat cannot mean to move forward or sideways, only backwards; consequently retreating back is a pleonasm.
The following agencies (not previously listed above) are found on Canadem’s Web site: Previously means already. As previously listed refers to prior text, the adverb above in previously listed above is redundant. Write previously listed or listed above.
The principles of Canadian parliamentary law are . . . to prevent any legislative action being taken upon sudden impulse. As an impulse is a spontaneous act, it does not require the qualifier sudden.
But few analysts believe that countries can successfully achieve sustainable growth through persistent and large deficit financing. By definition, achieve means to successfully complete an action; therefore successfully achieve is redundant.
Since 1995, Canada and ASEAN have discussed possible joint cooperation in forest fire management in the ASEAN region. Cooperation necessitates working with others, so joint cooperation is a pleonasm.
My personal experience as an immigrant was enriched when a number of friends and I went on to establish a cultural magazine. My experience can only be sustained first-hand; therefore my personal experience is redundant.
The Supreme Court of Canada held that the past history of the relationship would provoke the ordinary person. Because a history is a record of prior events, past history is a pleonasm.
There are several different immigration categories under which you may apply for permanent residence. In this sentence, there are several categories because they differ from one another; hence several different categories is unnecessary.
Yes, perfectly legitimate expectations will not be satisfied. Because legitimate means acceptable or reasonable, perfectly is a redundant intensifier.
A major problem remains the stampede of creditors fleeing a country in difficulty, causing far greater damage than the true facts dictate. A fact is something true; therefore a true fact is redundant.
She made a call to a number of countries to provide safe sanctuary to try to relieve the burden that neighbouring states face. A sanctuary is a place of safety; it is therefore superfluous to write safe sanctuary.
It is surrounded on all sides by industry. Surrounded means enclosed; it is redundant to write surrounded on all sides.
It has to do with a thin layer of the soil profile that’s rock hard and won’t let the water sink down. To sink is to move down so sink down is a pleonasm.
Owing to the close proximity to the Canadian border, it is only natural that it has developed a strong working relationship. Proximity indicates nearness or immediacy; therefore close in the phrase close proximity is superfluous.
Two foundations that promote healthy nutrition in Australia and Canada provide specific examples of successful projects. Because an example is a particular case, it does not require the qualifier specific.
The themes in the Dimensions series will be progressively released, and will be collected by subject area and distributed on seven CD-ROMs. A subject is a body of knowledge; it is redundant to write subject area.
At the outset, the leaders of this new and small society were there to establish these things for the growing numbers of immigrants who wanted the old customs to simplify their life in a new land. Customs are old practices, so it is redundant to include the modifier old, meaning having existed for a long time. If old is used in its other sense to mean former, the phrase old customs is not redundant.
In what way can you reconcile them with the long-term development of true and authentic democratic values? The synonyms true and authentic mean genuine or real; use one or the other.
. . . you can completely revolutionize your business procedures to meet the demands of an ever-changing business market. To revolutionize means to completely change; therefore, it is unnecessary to write completely revolutionize.
Their mutual cooperation shall also be strengthened in various other fields which directly affect the well-being of their citizens. There is a pair of redundancies in this sentence. Cooperation necessitates working with others, so mutual cooperation is redundant. As both various and other mean diverse or different in this sentence, use only one of these modifiers.
There are two types of fibre that combine together in varying proportions in most fibre-containing foods to form the total fibre content of food. Combine means to blend or join; consequently combine together is an example of a pleonasm.


Gage Canadian Dictionary (2000)

Nelson Canadian Dictionary of the English Language (1997)

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998)

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1995)

Oxford Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs (1993)





www.gmu.edu/departments/writingcenter/handouts/gu_edit.html [link no longer available]

Copyright notice for Favourite Articles

© His Majesty the King in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Public Services and Procurement
A tool created and made available online by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada

Search by related themes

Want to learn more about a theme discussed on this page? Click on a link below to see all the pages on the Language Portal of Canada that relate to the theme you selected. The search results will be displayed in Language Navigator.