Definition of Pleonasm

Pleonasm is derived from a Greek word that means “excess”. It is a rhetorical device which can be defined as the use of a second or more words (phrase) to express an idea. These words are redundant such as in the following examples of pleonasm, “burning fire” and “black darkness.” Sometimes, pleonasm is also called tautology, which is the repetition of words.

Difference between Oxymoron and Pleonasm

Oxymoron is a combination of two contradictory terms. It is the opposite of pleonasm. This can appear in different types of texts due to an error or used advertently to give paradoxical meanings. For example, “I like a smuggler. He is the only honest thief.”

However, pleonasm is a combination of two or more words which are more than those required for clear expression. For example, “I saw it with my own eyes.”

Types of Pleonasm

There are two types of pleonasm as given below:

1. Syntactic Pleonasm

This occurs when the grammatical language makes specific functional words optional such as;

“I know you will come.”
“I know that you will come.”

In the given pleonasm examples, the conjunction, “that” is optional while joining a verb phrase with a sentence. Although both sentences are correct grammatically, however, the conjunction “that” is pleonastic.

2. Semantic Pleonasm

The semantic pleonasm is related more to the style of the language than the grammar such as given below.

“I am eating tuna fish burger.”

Here tuna is itself a name of fish, and there is no need to add word “fish”. Therefore, the word fish is pleonastic in the sentence.

Examples of Pleonasm from Literature

Example #1

“This was the most unkindest cut of all…..”

(Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare)

In this extract, Shakespeare has deliberately used the term “most unkindest” as pleonastic. He could have used unkindest only; however, most is added in order to emphasize and give an even clearer meaning.

Example #2

“Let me tell you this, when social workers offer you, free, gratis and for nothing, something to hinder you from swooning, which with them is an obsession, it is useless to recoil …..”

(Molloy by Samuel Beckett)

In this example, the terms “free, gratis and for nothing” have very similar meanings. The words are repeated to create linguistic and literary effects. In this way, the words free and nothing are highlighted. This is a semantic pleonasm.

Example #3

“All this I saw with my own eyes, and it was the most fearsome sight I ever witnessed…..”

(Eaters of the Dead by Michael Chrichton)

The pleonastic term “my own” is pleonastic since the word “my” would have been enough to show possession. However, “own” is added to add emphasis and clarify the meaning of the phrase.

Example #4

These terrible things I have seen with my own eyes, and I have heard with my own ears, and touched with my own hands…..”

(City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende)

Here again, the sense of possession is expressed with the use of pleonastic such as “my own eyes, my own ears and my own hands. The word “own” is redundant. This is a syntactic pleonasm.

Example #5

“From that day mortal, and this happie State
Shalt loose, expell’d from hence into a World
Of woe and sorrow….”

(Paradise Lost by John Milton)

Milton is famous for using pleonastic language. Here, the word “hence” is employed in a redundant manner. In this context, the meaning of hence could be “because of the previous premise”. It also means “henceforth.” This is an example of semantic pleonasm.

Example #6

“He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again….”

(Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

The dictum of Hamlet for his father, here the word “man,” adds the semantic meanings to the male personality. This is also a semantic pleonasm that is related to the style of language, enhancing the meaning of the word “man”.

Function Pleonasm

Pleonastic words are employed to achieve linguistic, poetic and literary effects. Since they are used as a rhetorical repetition, they are helpful for reinforcing a contention, an idea or a question rendering an expression easier and clearer to understand. Also, they serve as a part of idiomatic language, professional and scholarly writing.