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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69 Responses to “50 Redundant Phrases to Avoid”

  • 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.

  • Andrew

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

  • 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”

  • Welles Brandriff

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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 🙂

  • 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.

  • C

    The one that irks me is “reply back.”

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • Paul Boos

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

  • 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.”

  • 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”.

  • 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.

  • Elizabeth

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

  • 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…?

  • 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 🙂

  • 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.

  • Mark Nichol

    Barbara:

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

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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”.

  • 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.

  • 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! 🙂

  • evelyn lewis

    What about irregardless? That’s a regular one.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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