50 Redundant Phrases to Avoid

By Mark Nichol

In conversation, it’s easy in the midst of spontaneous speech to succumb to verbosity and duplication. In writing, redundancy is less forgivable but fortunately easy to rectify. Watch out for these usual suspects:

1. Absolutely certain or sure/essential/guaranteed: Someone who is certain or sure is already without doubt. Something that is essential is intrinsically absolute. A guarantee is by nature absolute (or should be). Abandon absolutely in such usage.

2. Actual experience/fact: An experience is something that occurred (unless otherwise indicated). A fact is something confirmed to have happened. Actual is extraneous in these instances.

3. Add an additional: To add is to provide another of something. Additional is extraneous.

4. Added bonus: A bonus is an extra feature, so added is redundant.

5. Advance notice/planning/reservations/warning: Notices, planning, reservations, and warnings are all, by their nature, actions that occur before some event, so qualifying such terms with advance is superfluous.

6. As for example: As implies that an example is being provided, so omit “an example.”

7. Ask a question: To ask is to pose a question, so question is redundant.

8. At the present time: “At present” means “at this time,” so avoid the verbose version.

9. Basic fundamentals/essentials: Fundamentals and essentials are by their nature elementary, so remove basic from each phrase.

10. (Filled to) capacity: Something filled is done so to capacity, so describing something as “filled to capacity” is repetitive.

11. Came at a time when: When provides the necessary temporal reference to the action of coming; “at a time” is redundant.

12. Close proximity/scrutiny: Proximity means “close in location,” and scrutiny means “close study,” so avoid qualifying these terms with close.

13. Collaborate/join/meet/merge together: If you write of a group that collaborates or meets together, you imply that there’s another way to collect or confer. To speak of joining or merging together is, likewise, redundant.

14. Completely filled/finished/opposite: Something that is filled or finished is thoroughly so; completely is redundant. Something that is opposite isn’t necessarily diametrically opposed, especially in qualitative connotations, but the modifier is still extraneous.

15. Consensus of opinion: A consensus is an agreement but not necessarily one about an opinion, so “consensus of opinion” is not purely redundant, but the phrase “of opinion” is usually unnecessary.

16. (During the) course (of): During means “in or throughout the duration of”), so “during the course of” is repetitive.

17. Definite decision: Decisions may not be final, but when they are made, they are unequivocal and therefore definite, so one should not be described as “a definite decision.”

18. Difficult dilemma: A dilemma is by nature complicated, so omit difficult as a modifier.

19. Direct confrontation: A confrontation is a head-on conflict. Direct as a qualifier in this case is redundant.

20. End result: A result is something that occurs at the end, so omit end as a modifier of result.

21. Enter in: To enter is to go in, so throw in out.

22. Estimated at about/roughly: An estimate is an approximation. About and roughly are superfluous.

23. False pretense: A pretense is a deception, so false is redundant.

24. Few in number: Few refers to a small number; do not qualify few with the modifier “in number.”

25. Final outcome: An outcome is a result and is therefore intrinsically final.

26. First began, new beginning: A beginning is when something first occurs, so first and new are superfluous terms in these cases.

27. For a period/number of days: Days is plural, so a duration is implied; “a period of” or “a number of” is redundant. It’s better to specify the number of days or to generalize with many.

28. Foreign imports: Imports are products that originate in another country, so their foreign nature is implicit and the word foreign is redundant.

29. Forever and ever: Ever is an unnecessary reduplication of forever.

30. Free gift: A gift is by definition free (though cynics will dispute that definition), so free is extraneous.

31. Invited guests: Guests are intrinsically those who have an invitation, so invited is redundant.

32. Major breakthrough: A breakthrough is a significant progress in an effort. Though major is not directly redundant, the notable nature of the event is implicit.

33. [Number] a.m. in the morning/p.m. in the evening: The abbreviations a.m. and p.m. already identify the time of day, so omit “in the morning” or “in the evening.”

34. Past history/record: A history is by definition a record of past occurrences, and a record is documentation of what has already happened. In both cases, past is redundant.

35. Plan ahead: To plan is to prepare for the future. Ahead is extraneous.

36. Possibly might: Might indicates probability, so omit the redundant qualifier possibly.

37. Postpone until later: To postpone is to delay. Later is superfluous.

38. Protest against: To protest is to communicate opposition. Against is redundant.

39. Repeat again: To repeat is to reiterate an action, so again is unnecessary.

40. Revert back: Something that reverts returns to an earlier state. Back is superfluous.

41. Same identical: Same and identical are just that (and that). Omit same as a qualifier for identical.

42. Since the time when: Since indicates a time in the past; “the time when” is superfluous.

43. Spell out in detail: To spell out is to provide details, so “in detail” is repetitive.

44. Still remains: Something that remains is still in place. Still is redundant.

45. Suddenly exploded: An explosion is an immediate event. It cannot be any more sudden than it is.

46. Therapeutic treatment: Treatment in the sense of medical care is by nature therapeutic, so the adjective is redundant.

47. Unexpected surprise: No surprise is expected, so the modifier is extraneous.

48. Unintended mistake: A mistake is an inadvertently erroneous action. The lack of intention is implicit.

49. Usual custom: A custom is something routinely and repeatedly done or observed, and usual is redundant.

50. Written down: Something written has been taken down. Down is superfluous.

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64 Responses to “50 Redundant Phrases to Avoid”

  • Tom Jacobs

    Talking about redundancies:
    how about “the largest ever”?
    Largest being in the superlative form, indicates the biggest in size that has been and always will be, so “ever” does not add any meaning, only irritation (although that might be my personal experience).

  • Cecily

    A caveat that I think work making explicit: all those examples can be redundant, but that doesn’t mean all of them are always redundant.

  • Gary

    Excellent list and a good reminder of the traps we fall into. How about phrases like ‘over and above’ and ‘aid and abet’?

  • Sue O’Shields

    Regarding #7, you can ask a favor as well as a question. 🙂

  • Roger Whitehead

    “New innovation” comes up often.

    “Protest against” is the normal usage in British English. To protest originally meant to declare formally in public or to assert. We still here talk about people protesting their innocence.

    Roger

  • Prem Rao

    Very useful compilation. Some others that come to mind include “current status”, “future plans” and “agonizing pain”!

  • Matt M

    In sports:

    “New career high”

  • Aimee Graham

    Speaking of things that are redundant….reduplication???

  • Paul M

    Many of these are so common, particularly in speech, I think I will have a hard time eliminating some of them without a conscious effort.

    Thanks again Mark.

  • Laurie Boris

    This is wonderful! May I add my favorite redundancy, “completely destroyed”? This was one of the first phrases my Journalism 101 professor taught us to avoid. But I frequently hear and read this in the news. Ugh!

  • Stephanie

    Don’t forget “the reason is because”!

  • Simon

    #3 is wrong.

    I have a salad, with two tomatoes in it
    I can add some eggs to my salad
    Or, I can add an additional tomato to the tomatoes that I already have.

  • Me

    23. False pretense – This is a legal term and so would be quite valid in formal writing. Pretense as used in this phrase does not mean “deception”, but instead the older definition of a “claim”.

  • thebluebird11

    Oh, I am wounded…I am guilty of using many of those redundancies. They are so ubiquitous in the media, your ears get used to hearing them, you don’t even think twice about using them yourself. Some may have started almost as jokes (like “actual fact”), and then spread like a virus. I solemnly swear (is that redundant?) that I will try to be more careful!
    Nevertheless, there are some I would hesitate to banish. For example, “added bonus.” You have something advertised on TV, but wait! There’s more! A bonus! Then another bonus! And if you order now…all these added bonuses!
    @Prem Rao, I will inform you that there is something called a “Pain Score,” usually from zero (no pain) to 10. So there are degrees of pain, and agonizing is…well, pick a number from 1 to 10.
    And as any mother will tell you, you CAN repeat things, again…and again…and still your kids don’t hear it. Or is it better just to say “re-repeat”?
    There are more with which I could take issue but I need to get back to work!

  • Caryn Gootkin

    and what about “very unique”?

  • Carole Raschella

    My father’s pet peeve, which he passed on to me, was “absolutely unique,” or “almost unique,” etc. Unique is unique.

  • Don

    To follow up on previous comments:

    So ubiquitous.
    The reason why.

  • Frank Bonham

    I disagree with a lot of these. Often an idea is repeating quite intentionally for emphasis. If you had to be somewhere at 3 a.m., adding “in the morning” makes reinforces a time that you would not expect to be doing something.
    “Add an additional” is often completely appropriate. As another commenter mentioned, if something is already part of a set (their example was tomatoes in a salad), saying, “I am going to add a tomato” would be unclear since there is already tomato contained within the salad.
    If you say something, and then you repeat and you need to say it a third time, “repeat again” would be the proper description of that action.
    Invited guest is also valid. Nowhere in the definition of guest is the word invitation. If I show up at your house and you allow me to enter, I am a guest whether you invited me or not.
    While I agree that some of these truly fit the definition of redundancy, many of them are more about adding emphasis to a particular point.
    As some one who has worked both as a writer and a copy editor, I think there can be a tendency to “over copy edit” and take too much out of the writing.

  • Steve

    If I were petty and unappreciative (and I’m not), I’d point out that since one should always avoid redundancy, the title of your post may have extra words.

    However, that points out the difference between using words properly for emphasis, as the title, and your 50 examples.

  • AnWulf

    Sorry Prem but nothing wrong with your byspels:

    “current status” – status just means standing. You can have a past, current, or future status. An update on the status of the bill could be rewritten as an updated status. … Shorter and clearer.

    “future plans” – The current plan is to make the house 1,000 sq ft, future plans are to expand it.

    “agonizing pain” … There are many different levels of pain.

  • Clint

    To Tom: Depending on the context, “Largest ever” could be okay (Largest of all time vs. Largest in his third grade class).
    To Prem: “Agonizing pain” is acceptable, because pain can exist, but may not be necessarily agonizing.

  • shirley in berkeley

    Re 29, are you saying that Handel blew it in the Hallelujah Chorus? I always liked that “. . . and He shall reign forever and ever!” interwoven and repeated, again and again (I guess “repeated” would have been enough). Often people duplicate meanings for emphasis, to strengthen a phrase, and even though it’s unnecessary, sometimes it’s forgivable (and yes, sometimes not).

  • Arwen Taylor

    I think a lot of people write how they speak, so these things end up in their writing. I certainly recognized several “sins” I commit often. I’m working to improve my writing, so thank you for posting this list. It will certainly come in handy.

  • Brian

    I am fond of people saying figment of my imagination. Not sure where else figments exist except in the imagination. It always makes me smile a bit to hear it.

  • Steve M.

    I disagree that a number of these are always (or even often) incorrect. Even if some of the examples I’ve singled out are grammatically incorrect (and I am not aware that they are), I don’t see any reason they should be.

    1. People commonly refer to levels of certainty or surety (e.g. “I’m pretty sure, but I’m not absolutely sure”). In order to revise this, one would have to completely change the construction to something more formal and perhaps awkward.

    2. There is nothing wrong with “ask a question.” You often need both a verb and a noun to complete a sentence (and as someone above has mentioned, you can ask a favour as well as a question). The only alternative is: “can I ask you something?” Of course the “something” in this case is a question, and there is no benefit to changing it out.

    10 / 14. “Filled to capacity” is useful because one can legitimately say “filled” without meaning “full” (the latter being the intended meaning of “filled to capacity”). The “filled to capacity” is just a way of formally emphasizing the “full” part to people who might interpret “full” as “almost full.”

    20 / 25. In the course of a chain of events, there may be many results of many actions. The “end result” is a useful way of referring to the ultimate, or last, consequence in this chain.

    29. I think “forever and ever” is a useful idiomatic way of drawing attention to the incomprehensibility of the concept, but that’s just me.

    35. How else are you supposed to use this word in the imperative? Would you ever look at the person next to you and say “plan!” without another word?

    36. Not sure, but I think this has some important idiomatic usages. Off the top of my head, I associate the “down” with copying or recording information, rather than writing original content (for which one might be inclined to use “written up”?)

    “I have the notes from last class written,” you might say, but it would sound rather strange to say so instead of just saying that you wrote them down (FROM the board, where they were put UP). If you can “write something down” (and I think you can) then why can’t things can be “written down”?

  • JSH

    This article says these redundancies are to be avoided “in writing”, without being specific about what kind of writing. I believe there’s nothing wrong with using the majority of the examples cited here, except in the most formal cases. Everyone – literally everyone – pads their speech with “unnecessary” adverbs in real life. Accept the hyperbole and move on.

    Some of these examples are just plain wrong anyway. Like “invited guests” supposedly being a redundancy because guests are by nature invited. Not true. There is such a thing as an unexpected guest.

  • monty

    thanks,i know most of the word but for some words,i know different meaning of that word.here i know new meaning of that word.i much like your article.there need some more words so that it will more helpful and that words should be used in our general life.anyway,this will improve our vocab surly.

  • Vy

    wow this is really useful. this site ROCKS.

  • Stephen

    Great list. I’ll second Don’s suggested phrase, “the reason why” which I hear too often.

  • Linda

    Most of these sound like 1st year literal translations of Caesar.

  • David

    You have misunderstood many of these and their uses. Some are used as emphasis. Others make perfect sense e.g. I could plan a lesson shortly before it starts or I could plan ahead by preparing things days or weeks in advance.

  • Terry Odell

    My high school Latin teacher hated redundancies, especially in advertising. One of his pet peeves: Free Gift.

    Another – he didn’t like “from its earliest beginnings to its final completion.

  • evelyn lewis

    What about irregardless? That’s a regular one.

  • Julia

    Ah… I am definitely bookmarking this list. I just realized how frequently I litter my writing with redundant phrases. I say “ask a question” and “plan ahead” ALL the time. Oops! 🙂

  • Sally

    Sorry, but I must jump up and down, waving my hand and yelling about dialect differences.

    We in the British commonwealth are wont to “protest *against* something,” not “protest something.”

    We are also more ikely to “appeal *against* a decision,” not simply “appeal a decision.”

    Commercial media, with their greater openness to US cultural imperialism, have made headway with the latter phrase here but have barely begun their assault on the former.

  • Geosota

    “Rate of speed” is redundant. Speed is a rate. In fact, most usage of the words “rate of” leads to a redundancy, e.g., “rate of return”.

  • Dr D P Singh

    Ashamed to say, I am guilty of many of these obvious errors. However, No. 34 is commonly used by doctors. After a patient tells us his main symptoms or complaints, we elicit details about the present illness and then go on to The Past History which includes minutiae of previous diseases like treatment and outcome. Then we move on to information about occupation and so on.
    So ‘Past History’ has become an integral part of the medical lexicon.

    What really irritates me is the widespread and unwarranted use of the acronym SOS in prescriptions when a drug has to be administered to a patient when needed for a specific complaint rather than as a routine (this is very common in India). The correct term is PRN or prn and stands for pro re nata, meaning when necessary in Latin.

  • ApK

    A stimulating post! I had not considered some of these before, and it’s alerted me to some good editing fodder.

    Until Sue pointed out “asking a favor” I was slapping myself about “ask a question.” “Of course!” I thought, “You can’t ask a statement!”

    I see a lot of these examples as potentially redundant, but often they can be used effectively for emphasis or to clarify an ambiguity.

    Geosota, a rate of return can be 5%, the return can be $10 on the $200 investment.

    Brian, it could be a figment of your imagination, or a figment of my imagination.

    ApK

  • Barbara

    Here’s another one for you, “New & Improved” — it’s either new or it’s an improvement on an old version. This one drives me mad because advertising is littered with it!

  • Mark Nichol

    Barbara:

    It’s been my experience that manufacturers claiming that a product is new and improved are invariably only half right.

  • SimplyMe

    I agree with SteveM among some other comments. I think a lot of usage has to be taken by the context it is used in. Most of the phrases here I have seen asbeing used by best selling authors.

    I am not an expert nor claim to know English well enough to write without mistakes. We all need reminders of corrections that can be made which would make our work better.

    I must say this site is very useful for beginners like me to improve our writing skills.

  • thebluebird11

    @Brian: What if something is a figment of YOUR imagination and not mine? (sorry ApK, just saw you said the same thing LOL)
    @Frank Bonham: PLEASE skip the redundancy of “in the morning” (and the like) if you’ve already said AM. Almost as bad as when someone says “The La Brea Tar Pits” (which is like saying “the-the- tar-tar pits”). I think that whoever you’re speaking to (“the people to whom you are speaking”) will get it if you just say 3 AM. If you aren’t sure if they will get it, you could pause, then say dramatically, “in the MORNING!” I’m pretty sure, though, that that won’t be necessary.
    @Dr DP Singh: “Past History” is definitely redundant. I sit on both sides of the microphone, being a PA (physician assistant) and an MT (medical transcriptionist). As a PA, when I dictate or write, I use “Medical History,” and as a transcriptionist, I will only put “Medical History,” “Surgical History” (i.e. not “past surgical history”), etc. By definition, if it’s history, it’s in the past.

    Excellent comments on this post 🙂

  • Bill

    and my personal love-to-hate redundancy, “Whether or not” it should be on this list, causes me to wonder whether editors really pay attention to grammar…?

  • Elizabeth

    “Strategic plan”. Advice we often give in our writing tips: verbosity does not make you smarter, it just makes you verbose.

  • Warsaw Will

    @Bill – Whether you like it or not, ‘whether or not’ is, according to MWDEU, perfectly good, idiomatic English, which has been around for 300 years. It was, for example, good enough for the likes of George Bernard Shaw and John Updike.

    Incidentally my first ‘or not’ there was grammatically absolutely essential and no redundancy was involved, even if I could care two hoots if it was – life’s too short. No doubt that ‘absolutely’, too, will be seen as redundancy in some people’s eyes. But that was my instinctive choice; I needed an intensifier, and so it stays.

  • Lisa

    “Close proximity” – makes my teeth itch!
    Some day I want to live in a world where nobody says “close proximity” or tries to spell definitely with an “a”.

  • Catskul

    It should be noted that may of these can be used legitimately, and should only be avoided where they really are redundant, and don’t offer appropriate emphasis.

    Close proximity, for example, is not always redundant, but can contrast to clarify the difference between general proximity and something closer.

    And consider:
    “The room is filled with people.” vs “The room is filled to capacity with people.”

  • Paul Boos

    You missed my favorite redundancy; “as per”. It is either As or Per; they both mean the same thing.

  • venqax

    One that always irks me is “direct descendant”, as in, “She is a direct descendant of Stephen Foster”. Either one is a descendant, as opposed to simply a relative, or one is not. What would an “indirect” descendant be? Is there some way in which nobility, or someone, uses the notion of descent that differs from what the word is plainly?

  • A

    Is there redundancy in “falling down” and “climbing up”? There is such thing as falling up and climbing down. But in a sense, falling means going down and climbing means going up. What do you think?

  • C

    The one that irks me is “reply back.”

  • Faisal Abbas

    Some time redundancy is to add emphasis or to the reduce the chance of incorrect interpretations.

    Communication is not just about saying the right words it is also about being rightly understood.

  • Not a scientist I see

    I guess you are not a scientist as the point about an outcome and result reveals a certain cluelessness.

    20. end result
    25. final outcome

    You can of course have preliminarily results which are not final.
    You suggest not using qualifiers such as “end” or “final” as if results or outcomes are automatically final.

    If only, my friend, if only the world were so simple.

    You can certainly have preliminary results which indicate a trend but which are not final. No need to be a scientist, just think of elections 🙂

  • John

    Sometimes when I watch a trailer, I see this warning: “may contain content inappropiate for children”, ins’t this redundant? Shouldn’t it be “may include content” or “may contain audiovisual material”. Who approved that nonsense?

  • Rob Molecule

    Maybe it should have been clarified that many of these are not redundant when making comparisons. As mentioned above, you can describe someone climbing up and climbing down, but if you are describing someone only climbing up, it is sufficient to just say climbing; nobody would be confused as to the direction someone climbed.

  • Scott Donnelly

    Number 39:
    “To repeat is to reiterate an action”. Ironically, your use of reiterate is itself redundant. In this case the word iterate is more appropriate.

    You _can_ repeat an action again, if you have already repeated it. In which case, reiterate may be appropriate.

  • Welles Brandriff

    Another redundancy that bothers me is “very unique”
    or I once heard someone say “extremely unique”

  • Raul Suarez

    While it is important to keep these in mind and not repeat them mindlessly, I don’t completely agree with this list:

    From my perspective some of the phrases are clearly wrong:
    “Added Bonus”
    “Foreign imports”

    Some should not be on the list as they can be context appropriate
    “End result”: A larger activity can have smaller activities that have results. Those results can be considered as results of the larger activity, however, the larger activity will have an end result.
    “While the preliminary tests came up positive (this is the result of the preliminary tests), the end result was a clean bill of health.”

    “Ask a question”. You can asks for: a favour, a clarification, change, compassion, etc. Not always a question.

    Some are used as “Decorators” that add effect or intention to a word. The context needs to be considered.
    “Major breakthrough”: “Breakthrough” objective: overcome an obstruction. “Major” is relative. This is why context is relevant in this case. “Giving her first steps is a breakthrough for any child, but for Mary, it was a major breakthrough after her accident”

  • Andrew

    There is a bonus redundancy in #14, “diametrically opposed”.

  • carl

    Lawyers love using this one: “above captioned.”

    If it is captioned, it is above. It is above in a document caption, it is captioned. Try putting a caption somewhere else.

  • Michael Bagamery

    “Comprised of” so irks me. To “comprise” means “to consist of,” so the phrase “comprised of” means “consists of of.”

  • Kulturtrager

    Raul Suarez writes, “Ask a question”. You can asks for: a favour, a clarification, change, compassion, etc. Not always a question.

    Sigh. These are ALL questions. You are incorrect Mr. Suarez.

    The lack of logic from some posters here is depressing.

    One writes, “Some of these examples are just plain wrong anyway. Like “invited guests” supposedly being a redundancy because guests are by nature invited. Not true. There is such a thing as an unexpected guest.

    Another, Frank Bonham writes, “Invited guest is also valid. Nowhere in the definition of guest is the word invitation. If I show up at your house and you allow me to enter, I am a guest whether you invited me or not.”

    Someone becomes a guest as soon as they are permitted entry. Being expected or unexpected is irrelevant.

    Invited guest is a redundant phrase. No question.

  • Len

    We, the people of the United States, in order to form a MORE PERFECT union. There is no greater degree of ‘perfect.’ Even the authors of the US Constitution were guilty of redundancy!

  • Rod

    In general, any form of the word utilize, or usage can be substituted with the less pretentious word “use.”

    The word “articulate” is often used when “describe” would be more appropriate. Articulation is generally a mechanical description.

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