Cut the Clutter: Redundancies

Through careful examination of our first drafts, we writers must keep alert for redundancies. Redundancies are words that serve no useful purpose toward sentence clarity. They can be repetitive or just hangers on like wedding cans on a bride and groom’s getaway car. They clutter our prose and can bore/irritate our readers. Whenever we spot them, delete them to strengthen our sentences.

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EXAMPLES OF REDUNDANCIES

Jane pedaled all the way to town on her bicycle.

If Jane pedaled to town, then all the way is understood, and thus it’s redundant.

Both Joe and Bill will go fishing tomorrow.

The word both isn’t needed because it’s understood.

So, as you revise, ask yourself this: Does each sentence I wrote need every word I used? Can I get rid of some words or phrases without affecting my sentences’ meanings? If you have such words or phrases, get rid of them. Here are a few to watch out for, though the list of redundant words is huge. 

  • Add up

Let me add up the price and I’ll give you the cost of the groceries.           

(Why is up needed for greater sentence clarity? I cannot think of a reason.)

  • Ask a question

  I want to ask everyone a question about that tractor.

  (What else does a person ask besides a question?)

  • Actually

Actually, it’s true the dog bit my sister.

(It’s either true or not true, so actually isn’t needed.)

  • Follow after

  Jim follows after Joe in the lineup.

(If Jim follows, then after is understood.)

  • Past experience

Past experience proved to John that he couldn’t dance.

(If experience proved something to John, then past is understood.)

  • Very old

My grandfather lived to be a very old man.

(This word very, in numerous cases, isn’t needed. Either my grandfather was old or he wasn’t, no very about it.)

Two Internet Sites

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Many internet sites have lists of redundant words. Here’s two of them.

Redundant-Words.pdf (simplystatedbusiness.com).

Redundancies 101: 400+ Redundant Words to Avoid in Writing (kathysteinemann.com)

Tautology and Pleonasm

Tautology

        Definition: Needlessly repeating what’s already been said.

He is his own worst enemy.

He is his worst enemy.

She is my personal assistant.

She is my assistant.

He gave a brief glance at the newspaper.

He glanced at the newspaper.

Pleonasm

Definition: Words in a sentence that don’t contribute to its meaning.

Based on the fact that I grew up on the coast, hurricanes don’t frighten me.

Because I grew up on the coast, hurricanes don’t frighten me.

In my opinion, I think my high school team won’t have a good season this year.

I think my high school won’t have a good season this year.

Watch out for redundancies in your revisions. They often sneak up on writers, especially in first drafts

The Writer’s Warehouse

 

man riding on yellow forklift
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When we look at our manuscript’s pages, imagine them as a verbal warehouse. A literal warehouse uses different machines for lifting different types of products. Neat warehouses, like neat writing, are well-organized. Some machines, such as forklifts, can lift heavier items than other machines, such as hand trucks.

The same is true in our English language. Some parts of speech are forklifts, others hand trucks. Our language also has “pasteboard” boxes, as we shall see.

The Forklifts: Nouns, Pronouns and Verbs

These parts of speech, if well-chosen, do the heaviest lifting in a sentence.
More often than not, hand trucks aren’t needed.

The Hand Trucks: Adjectives and Adverbs

Sometimes, though, these verbal hand trucks are needed. When? When concrete nouns and dynamic action verbs alone can’t create a precise image in readers’ minds.

Pasteboard Boxes: Prepositions and Conjunctions

Every warehouse I’ve ever been in has merchandise in boxes, usually pasteboard boxes. These keep the merchandise clean and well-organized. Similarly, verbal “boxes” are necessary to help our sentences flow smoothly and clearly by keeping them well-organized. But do they pack a lot of weight? Most often, they don’t. But we do need them, and when we use them with “forklifts” and “hand trucks,” they help make our sentences the strongest and clearest they can be. Use them carefully, though. Too many in a sentence can also cause clutter.

Examples

1. The horse ran very fast through the field.
2. The thoroughbred galloped through the cotton field.
3. The brown thoroughbred galloped through the cotton field.

Which of the three sentences is the strongest? The third one, because it creates the most visual image in the reader’s mind.

Sentence 1: 

“horse” and “field” – too general. We don’t know what kind of horse, nor do    we know what kind of field the horse ran through.

 “very fast” – also too general. How fast is “very fast”? More often than not,  “very” isn’t needed, so be on the lookout for this adverb.

“through” – this preposition, though lightweight, is needed for clarity. It shows us the direction the horse is running.   

Sentence 2:

“thoroughbred” – a strong concrete noun. Here, we see a specific breed of  horse.                      

“galloped”  — more specific. We can see how fast the horse is running.

 “cotton field” — more specific/concrete. We can also visualize the field.

Sentence 3:

“brown” – an adjective that’s needed. Because thoroughbreds come in several colors, “brown” helps readers visualize the horse even better.  

Coming next week, an interview with Jodie Wolfe. author of To Claim Her Heart, a novel set during the Oklahoma Land Rush. Be sure to visit the Interview page next week to read it.