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When English Offers Choices Posted by on Nov 29, 2018 in English Grammar, English Language

This past week I witnessed a customer at a store point to something and say, “I’ll have two of those.” Before placing the items in a bag and finalizing the sale, the clerk said, “These ones?”

Courtesy of Pixabay, CCO

That response by the clerk was a redundancy, the use of an extra word which wasn’t needed. Because the customer was asking for more than one of an item, it was not necessary to use a double plural. The clerk should have responded by simply asking the customer, “These?” In a formal setting, it might have been more appropriate to say, “Are these what you wanted?”

Actually, I heard the same response from another store clerk that very same day. It is a very common mistake.

We tend to make mistakes like that because English offers us too many choices. English has many words which either mean the same or, in the case of something like these ones, the speaker fears that the response, though proper, lacks specificity. In trying to be precise the speaker overcompensates. This is most often the case when we are speaking informally. If I am holding something in my hand, and I ask, “This?” then I am being precise but informal.

Redundancies can also be found in common English expressions when a modifier is unnecessarily used, or when the modifier is all that is needed. You have no idea how often I hear people say the phrase mix together, when the word mix is sufficient. What else would you do – mix apart?

Here are other typical redundancies:

  • Plan in advance (When else would you plan something?)
  • Sum total (These words have the same meaning.)
  • Few in number (Few is a number.)
  • Each and every (Just say each or)
  • I, myself or I personally (Just say I.)
  • Know for certain (If you know something then you are certain.)
  • Actual fact (Trust me, there is no other kind of fact.)
  • Final outcome (To say outcome implies finality.)
  • Past history (Unless you are Doctor Who, there is no such thing as future history.)
  • Same identical (Same has the identical meaning as identical. Or, put another way, same is the same as identical.)
  • Unexpected surprise (As opposed to what – an expected surprise?)
  • Circle around (You can’t circle in a line. Just say circle.)
  • Repeat that again (Unless you are asking someone to say something for a third time, the addition of again is unnecessary.)

Redundant phrases are common in everyday English (but not very common, because that too would be redundant). Learn to recognize one when you hear it, and try not to fall into the trap of using more words than necessary.


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