I. What is a Pleonasm?
A pleonasm is a literary term, literary tool, and literary device.
Well, that was redundant! A pleonasm is when one uses too many words to express a message. A pleonasm can either be a mistake or a tool for emphasis.
Pleonasm (pronounced ˈplē-ə-ˌna-zəm) is derived from the Greek phrase pleonasmos meaning “excessive.”
II. Examples of Pleonasm
I heard it with my own ears.
When one hears something, we can presume it is with one’s own ears. The addition of “with my own ears” is a pleonasm.
He sees that you have arrived.
The insertion of the conjunction “that” is optional and considered unnecessary by some.
We’re eating fried squid
Because calamari is by definition fried squid, the adjective “squid” is a pleonasm which can be omitted.
III. Types of Pleonasm
A syntactic pleonasm happens when based on the arrangement of words in a sentence, certain grammatical forms can be omitted.
There’s not no reason why.
Grammatically, the usage of a double-negative is incorrect.
I do care about you.
This pleonasm is optional and may be used for emphasis; technically “do” is not needed, but it can be used to emphasize that one does truly care.
They see that you’ve arrived.
In this simple pleonasm, the “that” is not necessary for basic understanding of the sentence and can be omitted.
Semantic pleonasm occurs from redundancy, or unnecessary repetition of an idea or description of it.
They offered free gifts to us.
Gifts are, by definition, free.
He lives down south of us.
Although we often use this language in colloquial Southern speech, south is by definition down, so “down” is a pleonasm.
We ate beef hamburgers.
Because most hamburgers are made of beef, this would be considered a pleonasm, unless you were dining in a restaurant that offered a wide variety of burgers and meats.
IV. The Importance of Avoiding Pleonasms
Unnecessary redundancies can muddle otherwise clear and concise text. Unless the writer is poetically over-describing something for emphasis or dramatic effect, pleonasms should be omitted and avoided.
V. Examples of Pleonasm in Literature
Pleonasms are generally pulled out of literary pieces when combing for redundancies, but sometimes they are intentionally used for emphasis.
The most unkindest cut of all.
In this excerpt from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, redundancies are used to emphasize just how terrible the cut was.
I have a bed, my very own.
It’s just my size.
And sometimes I like to sleep alone
with dreams inside my eyes.
But sometimes dreams are dark and wild and creepy
and I wake and am afraid, though I don’t know why.
But I’m no longer sleepy
and too slowly the hours go by.
So I climb on the bed where the light of the moon
is shining on your face
and I know it will be morning soon.
Everybody needs a safe place.
In Mary Oliver’s poem “Every Dog’s Story” pleonasms are used to emphasize the dog’s sense of ownership with “my very own” and “just my size.”
VI. Examples of Pleonasm in Pop Culture
Pleonasms intentional and unintentional are often found in pop culture, especially for repetition’s ability to form a catchy beat and rhythm in song.
Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do”
The title of this song is a pleonasm: we can assume that someone will love “how they do” or in their own fashion. Goulding’s speaker uses the pleonasm to emphasis that she wants to be loved but in a certain way, in her lover’s way.
Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”
Pharrell repeats numerous times “because I’m happy!” which we can begin to understand is his reason for everything. Such pleonasms are useful, though, because they highlight the wild and wonderful happiness the speaker is experiencing.
VII. Related Terms
Like pleonasm, tautology is the unnecessary repetition of words or similar words. Tautologies are typically considered stylistic mistakes, whereas pleonasms are sometimes used for emphasis. Here are a few examples of tautologies:
- They arrived in succession, one after another.
- We are happy and joyful and content.
- Repeat that again for me.