What is Redundancy?

Strawberries arranged in patterned rows
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The term redundancy has more than one meaning.

(1) In grammar, redundancy generally refers to any feature of a language that is not needed in order to identify a linguistic unit. (Features that are not redundant are said to be distinctive.) Adjective: redundant.

(2) In generative grammar, redundancy refers to any language feature that can be predicted on the basis of other language features.

(3) In common usage, redundancy refers to the repetition of the same idea or item of information within a phrase, clause, or sentence: a pleonasm or tautology.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Etymology: From the Latin, "overflowing"

Examples and Observations

  • "A sentence of English--or of any other language--always has more information than you need to decipher it. This redundancy is easy to see. J-st tr- t- r--d th-s s-nt-nc-. The previous sentence was extremely garbled; all the vowel in the message were removed. However, it was still easy to decipher it and extract its meaning. The meaning of a message can remain unchanged even though parts of it are removed. This is the essence of redundancy."
    (Charles Seife, Decoding the Universe. Penguin, 2007)
  • "Thanks to the redundancy of language, yxx cxn xndxrstxnd whxt x xm wrxtxng xvxn xf x rxplxcx xll thx vxwxls wxth xn 'x' (t gts lttl hrdr f y dn't vn kn whr th vwls r). In the comprehension of speech, the redundancy conferred by phonological rules can compensate for some of the ambiguity in the sound wave. For example, a listener can know that 'thisrip' must be this rip and not the srip because the English consonant cluster sr is illegal."
    (Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. William Morrow, 1994)
  • "Redundancy can be something as simple as the u that tends to follow a q in English (inherited from Latin), my saying 'PIN number,' or my reciting my phone number twice when leaving you voicemail; or it may be something more complex, such as the harmonious recurrences sewn into a poem. Generally, you need to pick up about three words in ten to get an inkling of what a conversation is about; it is the lack of redundancy in mathematics and its teaching that explains why so much maths bewilders so many people. Redundancy can be rhetorical, but it can also be a practical way of shielding meaning from confusion--a safeguard, a reassuring and stabilizing kind of predictability."
    (Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars. John Murray, 2011)
  • "Highly predictable phonetic elements, grammatical markers that all must agree within a sentence, and predictable word-order constraints can help one anticipate what is coming. These are all direct contributors to redundancy."
    (Terrence Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain. Norton, 1997)

Redundancy: Definition #3

  • "Legal writing is legendarily redundant, with time-honored phrases such as these:
    " . . . To avoid needless repetition, apply this rule: if one word swallows the meaning of other words, use that word alone."
    (Bryan Garner, Legal Writing in Plain English. Univ. of Chicago, 2001)
  • "I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in. That's the America I love."
    (Governor Mitt Romney, quoted by Martha Gill in "Eight Phrases From the Election We'll Probably Never Hear Again." New Statesman, November 7, 2012)
  • "Planning your funeral service in advance can offer emotional and financial security for you and your family."
    (Erlewein Mortuary, Greenfield, Indiana)
    • alienate, transfer, and convey (transfer suffices)
    • due and payable (due suffices)
    • give, devise, and bequeath (give suffices)
    • indemnify and hold harmless (indemnify suffices)
    • last will and testament (will suffices)

The Lighter Side of Redundancies

First and foremost, I hope and trust that each and every one of you shares my basic and fundamental belief that needlessly repetitive and redundant word pairs are not only troublesome and bothersome but also vexing and irritating. We should, of course, be thankful and grateful, not worried and concerned, when a thoughtful and considerate teacher or editor makes a truly sincere effort to completely eliminate any unnecessary and superfluous words from our written compositions.

Put another way, redundancies clog our writing and bore our readers. So let's cut 'em out.

Pronunciation: ri-DUN-dent-see

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What is Redundancy?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, thoughtco.com/redundancy-grammar-and-words-1692029. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, September 9). What is Redundancy? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/redundancy-grammar-and-words-1692029 Nordquist, Richard. "What is Redundancy?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/redundancy-grammar-and-words-1692029 (accessed June 10, 2023).