Repeating Yourself is Redundant: or, A Pleonasm For Your Thoughts?

Justin Cox
Administrator at The Writing Cooperative and Eater of Donuts
Published Apr 30, 2018

Have you ever read a sentence that makes you cringe? For me, when words repeat for no reason my skin crawls. Take this sentence from a book I'm currently reading:

  • My bright, rainbow-dyed hair whips across my face.

This sentence makes me shiver in my bones. Can you spot the issue? It’s repetitive and redundant. The word my defines possession twice in the same sentence. This is an example of pleonasm.

Contents:

  1. Pleonasm Defined
  2. Common Examples of Pleonasm
  3. Avoiding Pleonasm

Pleonasm Defined

Pleonasm is using more words than necessary to express an idea, otherwise known as being redundant. The sentence above is a great example of pleonasm in action. Since the sentence is written in the first person, overusing my is redundant. It isn’t necessary to explain both the hair and face belong to the point-of-view character.

Common Examples of Pleonasm

Consider these examples:

  • I saw it with my own eyes.

You couldn’t have seen it with someone else’s eyes, so just use: I saw it.

  • It’s time that we meet.

An unnecessary that is the most common pleonasm. You should consider cutting that out of your writing forever. Keep your writing clean and simple: It’s time we meet.

  • I do love you.

In this example, do is unnecessary. It’s used as emphasis but the sentence works fine without the extra word.

  • We’re heading up north.

Up isn’t needed in the sentence. While it’s common in speech, the word is redundant to north. Likewise, down south is redundant, as is out west. If you’re from Philadelphia, consider down shore to be just plain wrong! Unless these extra words are intentionally part of your character’s voice, cut them.

Avoiding Pleonasm

Pleonasms are common in speech and colloquial language, which makes them difficult to avoid in writing. However, removing pleonasms can increase the impact of your words and reduce reader cringes.

Let’s look back at the original sentence:

  • My bright, rainbow-dyed hair whips across my face.

While grammatically correct with the redundancy, removing the pleonasm improves the impact of the writing. Consider this sentence instead:

  • Bright, rainbow-dyed hair whips across my face.

One word less, yet the sentence is no longer cringe-induing. The reader understands the hair belongs to the character and the language is stronger and more effective.

ProWritingAid’s Style Check will flag most pleonasms as “readability enhancements”. Hunt down the pleonasms in your writing and keep your readers from wincing.

Subscribe for writing hacks, special offers and free stuff

We will not share your details
Your Personal Writing Coach

Join over 750,000 writers who already use our editing tool

Try it for free!
ProWritingAid
Have you tried  ProWritingAid  yet? What are you waiting for? It's the best tool for making sure your copy is strong, clear, and error-free!
Justin Cox
Administrator at The Writing Cooperative and Eater of Donuts

Justin Cox is a writer, minister, and donut eater. His words are available online at Wired, Film School Rejects, The Writing Cooperative, The Coffeelicious, and more. Besides writing, Justin is an avid traveler and foodie. He lives in Orlando, Florida with his wife, Carla, and their dog, Mac. Connect with Justin on Twitter, Medium, or at JustinCox.com.

I disagree about the "I do love you." In the subtext of putting in the do, the speaker is saying that although there are things he or she dislikes about the person, they "do" love them--trying to soften the blow as it were. If you had that line in a script, for instance, the actor saying it would imbue it with tremendous subtext. Sometimes, I don't feel you can take things out of context and just make a blanket statement about them. I do agree with the article in almost all other respects.

By rtistwritr on 02 May 2018, 09:54 PM

Whose rainbow-dyed hair is whipping across her face?

By sheila2 on 18 May 2018, 11:44 PM

Whose hair? If I am conversing with a long-haired person, can it not be important to say whose hair it is? There are two nouns, and in my humble opinion their is nothing wrong with using two possessive pronouns. If it was her hair, you'd have no issue with saying her hair blew across my face or if a dog's, the dog's hair blew across my face.

By power_unit on 21 May 2018, 08:56 AM