Grammar’s difficult dilemmas — repetition and redundancy

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It’s a common phrase: difficult dilemma. But it’s also wrong — at least in the grammatical sense since a dilemma is, by definition, difficult. It’s what we call a redundant phrase, and they’re rampant in our speech and writing. We crank our phrases like “actual facts,” “added bonuses” and “basic necessities” without realizing that we’re actually repeating ourselves. 

It’s a plague that affects even the most qualified writers like authors, politicians and journalists. No one is immune.

So from a grammatical standpoint, it must spell the end of days for English grammar. It’s a sign that will foretell the demise of written and spoken expression!


Not really. The English language isn’t going to fail because we add an extra word to another word. 

But it’s still a problem. It has to be! We’re saying it’s OK to say difficult difficult problem or added added benefit. We’re saying it’s OK to be grammatically wrong.

But it isn’t incorrectness that we’re afflicted with, it’s just indifference. We simply don’t mind it enough to change it. We just decided that it’s fine to be redundant. And that’s OK.

I’m not saying that we should start writing “difficult difficult problem.” But there’s a certain stylistic elegance to redundant phrases that allow for emphasis, the kind of emphasis that is gained from repetition. Redundancy can take a particular part of a word’s definition and make that part more clear and apparent if that is what the writer desires. 

Yes, it’s technically breaking a grammar rule, but we make grammar rules that fit with our needs of language. And our needs change all the time. Remember when it was almost cardinal sin to split an infinitive or to place prepositions at the end of a sentence? These used to be firmly enforced grammar rules that have loosened in recent times to more closely match our desires for language. And the same process can happen to redundant phrases. 

The world isn’t going to end because we like to use redundant phrases. It’s just a sign of changing trends in the English language, changes that we can sympathize with when once we discover the underlying benefits of redundancy. So go ahead, be redundant if necessary. But do it in style.