Using Tautologies

Hey, SE Readers. Joan here today. I’ve known of some writers who refuse to use any time of spell check or grammar aid when writing. I’m not ashamed to admit I need all the help I can get.

While these tools are not a substitute for proofreading, they can help detect things such as using the wrong spelling of words. Some examples are there vs. their, its vs. it’s, or two vs. too. Many have settings that allow you to catch passive voice, incomplete sentences, repeated words. You can accept or reject the suggestions.

I’ve used Grammarly for a while. There is a free version and also a paid subscription. I have no affiliation and am not recommending the product. I only mention it for this post. Grammarly catches my use of tautologies. I’ve learned it hates the word “own” when used in a certain context.

“I’m closer to Nell than my own mother.”

“I’m getting my own apartment.”

While no set rule says you can’t use a tautology in fiction, a grammar check should cause us to consider how we can better write the sentences. We can easily eliminate the word “own” in the first sentence and not lose the meaning. The second could read, “I’m moving into an apartment.”

Consider these acronyms:

  • DVD disc
  • GPS system
  • ISBN number
  • PIN number
  • UPC code
  • VIN number

In each case, we don’t need to use the word disc, system, number, or code. DVD is a Digital Video Disc, UPC stands for Universal Product Code, etc.

Use of tautologies is commonplace, especially in speech.

  • “Our nation must come together to unite.” – George W. Bush
  • “It’s déjà vu all over again.” – Yogi Berra
  • “They are simply going to have to score more points than the other team to win the game.” – John Madden

I had to laugh when reading the third one. I recall something my brother once said about the sportscaster. “He talks and talks but never says anything, then he says it again.”

Some have successfully used tautologies in literature.

  • “To be or not to be, that is the question.” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • “But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping, and so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door.” – Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven

But they are most often heard in everyday language. In the following examples it’s easy to see which words can eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.

  • I awoke early to see the morning sunrise.
  • Harold always over-exaggerates.
  • Jane began her presentation with a short summary.
  • Bob reached the summit at the top of the mountain.
  • He is always making predictions about the future.
  • The school is in close proximity to the fire station.

Writing should be clear and concise. We don’t want to bore our readers with redundancies. Whether you use a spelling or grammar checker or proofread without one, take a few minutes to look at these types of mistakes.

And now I’ll leave you with one that I repeatedly used in my last manuscript—quick glance.

Enough said!

39 thoughts on “Using Tautologies

  1. I do use Grammarly and ProWritingAid both and they are great tools. One thing ProWritingAid will do is find overused words in a document and that is helpful to me as I tend to use certain words over and over again when there are other ways of saying the same thing. I have also noticed Grammarly does not like “own.” 🙂 In your first example, “I’m closer to Nell than my own mother,” without “own” in the statement, it sounds like she closer to Nell than her mother is, when that’s not what she is saying. But, that’s just my interpretation. I think it’s absolutely fine to use words in dialogue that sound like a natural way of speaking whether it is correct or not. 🙂 Thanks for a great post, Joan!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Since English is not my mother language, I need all the help I can get. I’m using Grammarly and I have a paid subscription. I downloaded the extensions for Chrome, Word and my smartphone. I’m only sorry that there isn’t an extension for Scrivener! It’s not infallible, but it helps, especially in detecting long and convoluted sentences (typical of Italian but so difficult to read in English).
    Great post, as usual!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hahaha, my word processor HATES these (and apparently I use them a lot). I tend to leave them in dialogue however, as we tend to actually speak that way in real life. Not sure if that’s the right thing to do, but it sounds right in my head as I read it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was discussing spelling and grammatical errors with someone a few days ago. I think in many ways we’re becoming too dependent on these things and aren’t as apt to catch mistakes on our own. But they are helpful.

      Liked by 2 people

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