Author Services

Proofreading, Editing, Critique

Proofreading, Editing, Critique

Getting help with your book from a professional editor is always recommended but often just too expensive. We have partnered with a professional editor with 30 years of experience to provide quality writing services at affordable prices.

Visit our Writing Services Page
Hundreds of Helpful Articles

Hundreds of Helpful Articles

We have created hundreds of articles on topics all authors face in today’s literary landscape. Get help and advice on Writing, Marketing, Publishing, Social Networking, and more. Each article has a Comments section so you can read advice from other authors and leave your own.

Understanding Tautology: Definition, Function and Example

Tautology is a literary device involving using different synonymous words in a sentence. This language usage can be redundant in writing. But writers often use it to create emphatic and rhythmic effects, permitted as poetic license. In this article, we explain various types of tautology with examples for better illustration.

Types of tautological expressions

We can explain tautology in two ways: verbal and logical. One occurs in speech, the other in reasoning.

1. Verbal Tautology: This involves using a few words that mean the same thing close together in your speech or writing. The statement below helps illustrate this definition:

“You can do whatever you want on your own time.”

Here, we have an example of a verbal tautology with the adjective "own" repeating the idea already expressed with the adjective "your." The phrase "your own" is common in colloquial English language, used to emphasize possession. But in writing, this usage can be regarded as redundant and unacceptable, as the word "own" doesn't provide any new information.

2. Logical Tautology. Logically speaking, tautology presents statements that hold true in every probability. Here, the writer uses an either/or sentence to suggest options or two contrary ideas. But the alternatives cover all the likelihoods, so the expression can't be wrong. The example below illustrates this definition:

“Either John came in this morning or didn't come in this morning.”

This statement is always true because it expresses all the possibilities. Consider a different sentence, "Either John came in this morning or is lying at home watching TV." Here, there is the possibility that John is in neither of those places. You can consider the statement in the earlier example redundant because the second part adds nothing new to the expression.

Reasons for tautology in writing

There are a couple of reasons for a tautology to appear in writing. Sometimes, it's a mistake or lack of proper editing by the writer. Other times, readers can excuse it as poetic license because it serves a purpose. As tautology is common in everyday conversations, it allows writers to create dialogue that feels real. Writers can also use it intentionally to create ambiguity that causes readers to reflect on the import of a statement. For example, “What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours.” The tautology in this statement seems to carry a weight of meaning that the speaker wants readers to reflect on. Poets use tautology to create repetition to grab readers' attention, provide emphasis and enhance the rhythm of their work.

Example of tautology in Hamlet's soliloquy of suicide

“To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub: For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause—there’s the respect That makes calamity of so long life.” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, 1603)

Hamlet's soliloquy of suicide contains a lot of tautology. It opens with "To be or not to be." This is a good example of a logical tautology because those are the only options in life: to continue living or die. Other examples are "To die — to sleep, no more." All three parts of this expression clearly convey the same thing. Shakespeare's use of tautology here is remarkable, allowing the audience to understand Hamlet's state of mind and evoking the emotions he wrestles with.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen