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English Lesson 25: Avoid Redundant Words and Phrases

November 15th, 2008

redundant-words-phrases.jpgIn freelance writing, it is always important to make sure that your prose is grammatically correct. However, it is also important to make it as clear and concise as possible, especially if you’re trying to meet word count limits. One of the ways in which our writing can become annoyingly long-winded is through the use of redundant words and phrases that may be grammatically correct but would read (or sound) much better if they were shortened to more concise variations. Here is a list of common English redundancies, beginning with redundant acronym phrases and followed by other types of wordy phrases along with suggestions for improved versions.

Redundant Acronym Phrases:

  1. ATM machine: This is probably the most common redundancy I have encountered, especially if we include spoken English as well as the written form. ATM stands for Automated (or Automatic) Teller Machine, so the word “machine” in this phrase is unnecessary — just say “ATM.”
  2. SEO optimization: This one is far less common in popular culture and is not even listed as a redundancy on most other websites, but I encounter it quite frequently in my daily reading. It is gradually becoming a pet peeve of mine because SEO already means Search Engine Optimization, so we are actually over-optimizing by adding the word “optimization” to it.

  3. PIN number: PIN = Personal Identification Number. Just use PIN.
  4. VIN number: Vehicle Identification Number number
  5. ISBN number: International Standard Book Number number
  6. PC Computer: Personal Computer computer
  7. RAM memory: Random Access Memory memory
  8. CD (or CD-ROM) disk: Compact Disc disk or Compact Disc - Read Only Memory disk
  9. DVD disk: Digital Video (or Versatile) Disc disk
  10. HTML language: Hyper Text Markup Language language
  11. BASIC code: Beginner’s All-Purpose Instruction Code code
  12. DOS operating system: Disk Operating System operating system
  13. LAN network: Local Area Network network
  14. CNN network: Cable News Network network
  15. SAT test: Scholastic Achievement Test test
  16. ACT test: American College Test test
  17. GRE exam: Graduate Record Examination exam
  18. LCD display: Liquid Crystal Display display
  19. HIV virus: Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus — redundancy is definitely not something we want in a virus unless we’re talking about viral marketing!
  20. UPC code: Universal Product Code code
  21. AC (or DC) current: Alternating Current current or Direct Current current
  22. DSL line: Digital Subscriber Line line
  23. SAM missile: Surface-to-Air Missile missile
  24. ABM missile: Anti-Ballistic Missile missile
  25. ICBM missile: InterContinental Ballistic Missile missile
  26. IRA account: Individual Retirement Account account
  27. ARM mortgage: Adjustable Rate Mortgage mortgage
  28. UHF (or VHF) frequency: Ultra High Frequency frequency or Very High Frequency frequency
  29. OPEC countries: Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries countries
  30. VAT tax: Value Added Tax tax

Other Redundant Phrases:

  1. added bonus: This is one that I see frequently in Internet marketing sales letters and infomercials. Since the word “bonus” implies that an additional good is being included with the existing product, the “added” part is redundant. In most cases, you can just write “bonus.”
  2. free gift: This one is also very common in the Internet marketing world as well as in offline retailing. If something is truly a gift, it is not supposed to cost anything and is automatically free. On the other hand, if something is NOT free, then it is not actually a gift; instead it would be considered as a purchase or trade. This should simply be written as “gift” or “free X”, where X is the name of the product you’re giving away.
  3. past (or prior, previous) experience: Experience already refers to things that you have done in the past, so you do not need to include “past”, “prior”, or “previous” in your resumé here.
  4. future planning, plan in the future: A plan is always something that you are thinking about doing in the future; you cannot plan to do something in the past or present. Therefore, you just need to say “plan” or “planning.”
  5. revert back: The word revert means “to go back to”, making the “back” part of this phrase redundant. Other words in this same category include refer, return, and repay — you don’t need to use “back” with any of these.
  6. completely surrounded, surrounded on all sides: The word surrounded implies that something is enclosed on all sides and the notion of completeness is already included here. So just use “surrounded.”
  7. advance warning: A warning is something given in advance, usually in the form of a notification that unfavorable circumstances may occur in the future. The “advance” part is not needed.
  8. unexpected emergency, unexpected surprise: Neither an emergency nor a surprise can occur if you’re actually expecting it. Drop “unexpected.”
  9. completely (or totally, utterly) destroyed: If something is destroyed, this means that it has been rendered completely unusable or inoperable. An item cannot have a “partially destroyed” status any more than one can be “partially pregnant.” If something is still partially functioning, the proper word to use is damaged, not destroyed.
  10. absolutely (or completely) essential: This is another case where the modifiers are not necessary. Something is either essential or not essential; there is no such thing as “partially essential.”
  11. Link (or join, assemble, collaborate) together: All of these verbs relate to bringing things together, making the “together” part superfluous. Simply use the word that best fits the context of the sentence.
  12. round (or square, triangular, etc.) in shape: If something is round, this already refers to its shape, making the “in shape” part redundant.
  13. large (or small) in size: Similar to the above situation, both large and small already refer to size. Drop “in size.”
  14. few (or many) in number: The “in number” part is redundant. Just use “few” or “many.”
  15. filled to capacity: If something is filled or full, it has already reached its capacity. So we only need to say “full” or “at capacity” depending on context.
  16. 12 (o’ clock) noon, 12 midnight: Both noon and midnight always occur at 12:00, so we don’t need the “12″ part. Just say noon or midnight.
  17. discuss about: Discuss means “to talk about”, so it is preferable to simply write either “discuss” or “talk about” but not both.
  18. razed to the ground: Raze means to level something to the ground or shave it off, so the words “to the ground” are superfluous here. If a village is razed in the sense of being sacked and demolished, it would not make much sense to “raze” it into the air unless we figure out a way to defy the laws of physics.
  19. and also: This is one that I have caught myself using occasionally. Depending on the context, it is better to use one of these two words, but not both at the same time.
  20. pizza pie: Pizza actually means “pie” in Italian, so it would seem silly to say “pie pie.”
  21. Sahara desert: This is one that I learned fairly recently. Sahara means “desert” in Arabic, so if we’re referring to the specific desert in Africa, it’s just “Sahara.”
  22. West Oso Bears: This is the name of one of our local high school football teams. Interestingly, because the word oso means “bear” (the animal) in Spanish, the name of this team is actually the West Bear Bears. Apparently these folks were so proud of their team that they could not bear to change the name because they felt that it bears repeating! :)

15 Responses to “English Lesson 25: Avoid Redundant Words and Phrases”

  1. comment number 1 by: Free Online Dating Site

    Nice post. I am really impressed by this article. As in daily life we repeating words unnecessarily.

  2. comment number 2 by: John Wilson

    Can I add PIN Number to the list of redundancies? grrrrrrrrr

  3. comment number 3 by: John Wilson

    ……….on the other hand, I could just read the article properly without jumping in (see item 3). How embarrassing. Now, I THINK I have checked for this one ……so….. “fairly unique” gets my goat (I should get out more) as you cannot have gradations on uniqueness. Phew!

  4. comment number 4 by: Karlonia

    @John Wilson:

    Yes, I made sure to include “PIN number.” I hear this one almost as frequently as “ATM machine” — sometimes they are even included in the same sentence!

    “Fairly unique” along with other variations such as “almost unique”, “somewhat unique”, etc. is one that I see in print occasionally. However, it does not qualify as a redundancy because it does not actually repeat itself. It would be more accurate to classify it as an oxymoron (contradiction in terms) or simply as a contradictory phrase. Eventually I will write another article to cover these, as there are many phrases that fall into this particular category.

  5. comment number 5 by: Rob

    Just fyi, and fwiw, the A in IRA actually stands for Agreement — not Account. I’m told there are important distinctions though I’m not sure what they are.

  6. comment number 6 by: John Wilson

    For Rob’s information, over here in dear old blighty, the A in IRA stands for Army! I experienced that “satellite delay” before my brain got into gear. Can I chuck “pre-book” into the redundant word category, by the way?

    Cheers

    John

  7. comment number 7 by: ching

    i learned more about redundant words…
    now i am more aware of using it…..
    thanks for your page
    keep up the good works guys….

  8. comment number 8 by: yerdua

    i will now remember those phrases that are redundant in form

  9. comment number 9 by: Matthew Lybanon

    Very good article. I used to work for an organization that (in the days before word processors and personal computers) had a publications group that published in-house memos and prepared articles for submission to journals. One editor in that group looked hard for “dog puppies.” I thought she had made up the term (and list of examples). But if you do a Google search you will find a very good website:

    http://www.wstreetnw.com/redund.htm

    The home page has links to articles on a large number of topics.

  10. comment number 10 by: jim

    Notwithstanding,some of those require the redundancy, in certain situations, for clarity.

  11. comment number 11 by: josh leo

    This is a great article, well done! Just a question, what about ‘pre-format’, as in the technical term for wiping a hard disk and putting an operating system on it?

    Would be interested to know as it really annoys me…

    Thanks

    Josh.

  12. comment number 12 by: josh leo

    Sorry, I actually did mean to write ‘pre-installed’.

  13. comment number 13 by: Grad Student

    When I visited England recently I learned that “Avon” was actually the word for river, so the River Avon is the River River. Your blurb about the Sahara Desert reminded me.

  14. comment number 14 by: Golay

    Is it right to use building here: Venue- New City Hall Building
    Is hall and building redundant?
    Thank you.

  15. comment number 15 by: John Wilson

    Firstly I can’t help thinking that the question should read”…….ARE hall and building redundant..” but I agree with the sentiment that the fact the building has the word “Hall” in its name, that “Buiding” is in fact redundant. How do peoplr feel about the oft used expression “…..fairly crucial”? Cheers folks

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