7 Redundant Adjectives

By Maeve Maddox

Redundancies abound in everyday speech: phrases that say the same thing twice. For example, two of the most common expressions that include a redundant adjective are “free gift” and “closed fist”:

Credit cards offer free gifts to new cardholders. 

Still she came at me, so this time I hit her with a closed fist.

1. free gift
A gift is a thing given willingly to someone without payment. The adjective free is redundant.

2. closed fist
A fist is by definition a hand with the fingers folded inward toward the palm and held there tightly, typically in order to strike a blow or grasp something. The adjective closed is redundant.

3. verdant green
The adjective verdant derives from a Latin word meaning “green.” Verdant came into English from a French word meaning “becoming green.” The English meaning of verdant is “green” or “green with vegetation.” An enthusiastic fertilizer manufacturer advertises a product that will provide the consumer with “a verdant green lawn.” Either verdant or green will do.

4. rubicund red
The adjective rubicund derives from a Latin verb meaning, “to be red.” Something that is rubicund is red or reddish. This description from fan fiction can do without one of the adjectives: “Drawing rivulets of blood, his fingertips glowed a rubicund red.”

5. overused cliché
The blogger who wrote this sentence could have saved an adjective: “The overused cliché I hate the most is ‘off the beaten path.’” In reference to language, a cliché is an overused expression.

6. unexpected surprise
A surprise is an unexpected occurrence. The phrase is not uncommon on the Ngram Viewer, and is frequent online:

An unexpected surprise greeted us upon our arrival home.

Life is full of unexpected surprises.

A foreigner in the dining hall was an unexpected surprise.

As “unexpectedness” is part of the definition, it’s enough to say that something is a surprise.

7. universal panacea
Panacea derives from a Greek word meaning, “cure-all” and is defined in English as “a universal remedy.” Because panacea contains the meaning universal, it’s not necessary to tack universal onto it, as in this sentence written by a journalist: “When Henry Grady was inviting Northern capital South, we were much more certain that industrialization was the universal panacea for all economic and social ills.”

Panacea is sufficient.

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8 Responses to “7 Redundant Adjectives”

  • Duy K. Bui

    I beg to differ on “free gifts”.
    There are “gifts” you only get if you take an action (buy, subscribe, whatever), and there are “free gifts” you get unconditionally.
    Many stores are lying nowadays though that their gifts are “free” even when they are clearly not.

  • venqax

    The ones I notice most involve *still* as in still remains, still lives on, still continues; and *originally* or *first* as in originally founded
    originally/first began, first/originally started, first/originally formed.

    A pet peeve of mine is Capitol building. Maybe too much time in DC.

  • ApK

    I think the some of these added adjectives serve to add emphasis, and in some cases, do it quite effectively. It’s not quite repetition, but serves the same function.

  • venqax

    Which ones would you say are simply intensifiers and not just plain wrong? I get your point, but I see no examples here.

  • Andy Knoedler

    We can distinguish gradations of redundancy. I have no problem with free gift, overused cliché, or unexpected surprise.

    There are many “gifts” being dangled about by commercial firms these days. Not many of them are “free” but are only conditional gifts.
    Some clichés are not terribly offensive, while others definitely qualify as “overused.”
    The phrase “unexpected surprise” is often used conversationally and rarely raises any hackles.

  • venqax

    I don’t know how any of those pass the test of any conscientious user of language. Conversational informality is another thing, but it should “raise hackles” in any formal context. What does “gift” mean? A cliche is by definition something overused, likewise a surprise is unexpected. How do any of these add anything to discourse except doubt that the user knows the definition of words he uses? Where would you draw the line? Yellow yellow-colored lemons that are yellow and yellow-colored? A hot high-temperature… Wet water…

  • ApK

    “Closed fist” was the one in particular I was thinking of.
    I think the repetition can reinforce the relevant aspect, you might be reinforcing the idea that they are not being open and welcoming, approaching with open hands, or they are not going easy on the victim by striking with open hands. Yes, the fact of closed hands is implied in “fist” but saying it draws extra attention to the factor of interest.
    Yes, “tight fist” or “clenched fist” might also serve as an appropriate modifier without the redundancy, but in the right context, I think “closed fist” sounds no worse than “cold, cold night.”

  • Sam

    A tautology is a redundancy through and through. An “unexpected surprise” is poor use of the language and lazy writing through habitual and reflexive content creation. Page fillers who love rattling on and on are the worst culprits and tend to enjoy the sound of words instead of their meaning. As a suggestion, instead of saying “unexpected surprise” perhaps rethink the emotion of the text and try “unexpected blessing” or even “pleasant surprise”. Think before you write otherwise your meaning will skip a beat with redundancy.

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