ACT English: Redundancy

ACT English: Redundancy

Redundant phrases are those that unnecessarily repeat information. Redundancies are so common in everyday speech that it’s easy to overlook them. For example, examine the seemingly faultless sentence “I have to use the ATM machine, but I forgot my PIN number.” There are two errors of redundancy in this sentence: ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine and PIN stands for Personal Identification Number, so attaching the words “machine” and “number” to their respective acronyms constitutes a redundancy.

Don’t worry–the ACT English will not be that sneaky, but you will have to become unusually vigilant to catch these errors. Redundancy is a specific error of “wordiness,” that is, the use of excessive or unnecessary words. Wordiness comes in the form of unnecessary words (words that can be deleted to aid the clarity of the sentence), redundancies (words that simply repeat what has already been stated), and clunky phrases that could be easily reduced to single words.

Let’s check out a couple simple examples of redundancy that more closely resemble the errors you’ll see on the ACT:

Example 1: At first, I initially was afraid of flying.

Example 2: My first class begins at 11 a.m. in the morning.

In the first example, both “at first” and “initially” signify the idea of “at the beginning.” We only need one of these expressions to communicate this idea. To fix the sentence, remove one of the expressions.

In the second example, both “a.m.” and “in the morning” communicate the idea that the class begins before noon. To fix the sentence, remove one of these expressions.


Redundancy Practice Question

Now, let’s look at an actual example question:

  1. However, on the other hand, this new generation will not migrate as caterpillars, thus repeating the cycle.
  2. However, in spite of it,
  3. Yet it is the alternating case that
  4. However,

If you happen to read the underlined phrase too quickly, you may not notice the error. A cursory reader may conflate the expressions “however” and “on the other hand” into one general expression of contrast. A careful reader, though, should notice that “however” and “on the other hand” mean the exact same thing in this context, so placing them next to each other at the beginning of a sentence results in a pretty flagrant redundancy.

What are our options? B happens to commit the same error: “however” and “in spite of,” though not interchangeable, communicate the same sense of opposition. C gives us a nice example of both redundancy and wordiness. Both “yet” and “alternating case” communicate opposition, and even worse, “it is the alternating case that” is a wordy phrase that can be easily condensed into a simple word like “however.” D is our best answer: as long as one of the expressions is omitted, the redundancy is fixed.

For practice, try spotting the redundancies we use in everyday speech. Once you begin to notice those, you’ll have no trouble identifying the redundancies on the test.