Pleonasm (Greek πλεονασμος, "excess") is the use of more words than those necessary to denote the intended sense. There are two kinds of pleonasm: syntactic pleonasm and semantic pleonasm.

Table of contents
1 Syntactic pleonasm
2 Semantic pleonasm
3 See also

Syntactic pleonasm

Syntactic pleonasm occurs when a language's grammar makes certain function words optional. For example, consider the following English sentences:

  1. I know you are coming.
  2. I know that you are coming.

In this construction, the conjunction that is optional when joining a sentence to a verb phrase with know. Both sentences are grammatically correct, but the word that is considered pleonastic in this case.

Spanish is considered a null subject language because pronoun subjects are usually optional. Consider the following sentences:

  1. Yo quiero Taco Bell.
    I want Taco Bell.
  2. Quiero Taco Bell.
    I want Taco Bell.

In this case, the pronoun yo ("I") is grammatically optional; both sentences mean the same thing. The process of deleting pronouns is called pro-dropping, and it also happens in some Slavic languages.

In informal spoken French, the negator ne is often optional, while pas is obligatory:

  1. Je parle franšais.
    I speak French.
  2. Je ne parle pas franšais.
    I do not speak French.
  3. Je parle pas franšais.
    I do not speak French.
  4. Je ne parle franšais.
    (not grammatically correct)

Here, (2), (3), and (4) show that the word pas is required to negate the meaning of the first sentence, whereas ne is optional.

The pleonastic ne (ne pléonastique) expressing uncertainty in formal French works as follows:

  1. Je crains qu'il ne pleuve.
    I fear it may rain.
  2. Ce 'ne' est plus difficile à comprendre que je ne pensais.
    This 'ne' is harder to understand than I thought.

Another striking example of the French tendency toward pleonastic constructions is the word aujourd'hui, translated as today but syntactically meaning "on the day which is this day".

Semantic pleonasm

Semantic pleonasm, more a question of style and usage than grammar, is when two or more content words overlap in meaning enough such that one word's semantic component is subsumed by the other. Linguists usually call this a redundancy so as to avoid confusion with syntactic pleonasm, which is a more important phenomenon from the standpoint of theoretical linguistics. In contrast to redundancy, an oxymoron results when two seemingly contradictory words are adjoined.

Examples of redundancy in English

  • ascend up
  • head up
  • essential necessity
  • lesbian woman
  • nonreading illiterates
  • tuna fish
  • wet water

In some cases, the redundancy in meaning occurs at a syntactic level above the word, such as at the phrase level:
  • It's deja vu all over again.
  • I never make predictions, especially about the future.

The use of this kind of redundancy in writing is often discouraged by usage writers, not only because they are needlessly wordy, but because they may imply a distinction when there isn't one. The reader might be left wondering that if the water is wet, does that mean there is dry water too?

Sometimes editors and grammatical stylists will use the word pleonasm to describe simple wordiness or use of puffed-up vocabulary. This phenomenon is also called prolixity or logorrhea:

The sound of the loud music drowned out the sound of the burglarization.

compared to, say,

The loud music drowned out the sound of the burglary.

See also