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What is Pleonasm?

Pleonasm is the use of more words than necessary to express an idea, often adding emphasis or clarity. It's like saying "free gift" or "advance warning." While sometimes seen as redundant, pleonasm can also enhance language expressively. Have you ever used a pleonasm without realizing it? Join us as we uncover the subtle power of these linguistic redundancies.
Darlene Goodman
Darlene Goodman

Another purpose of redundant pleonasms may be to use them for emphasis. For example, advance planning may be considered a pleonasm because planning usually occurs in advance of a project, but the speaker may wish to emphasize that the planning was not left to the last minute. Also, if a speaker wants to avoid confusion with another use of the same word, he or she may add a pleonasm to create better clarity. The potentially pleonastic phrase invited guests clarifies that the guests are invited, as opposed to being uninvited or surprise guests.

Syntactic pleonasms are typically words or phrases that are grammatically unnecessary to the sentence. A common example of this, in English, is the word that. In some contexts, removing this word will not change the meaning of the sentence. For instance, in the phrase I know that she works for you, the word that may be removed without changing the grammatical structure of the sentence.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Another example of syntactic pleonasm is the dropped subject that occurs in many languages of the world. In Spanish, a language that has verbs with inflections that mirror the subject, pronoun subjects are often rendered unnecessary. The pronoun is then dropped. This is linguistic event is called pro-drop.

An example of pro-drop occurs in the Spanish phrase meaning yo te amo. A literal translation is I you love but it actually means I love you in English. In Spanish it is typically shortened to te amo, which translates to English as you love. The verb of the phrase, amo has the suffix '-o' which shows that it is referencing a first person singular subject, or yo. Yo is made pleonastic and can then be dropped.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books