All terms

What is a tautology?

The unnecessary repetition of a word or phrase.

Tautology: Saying the Same Thing Twice

A tautology is a literary device in which an idea or description is repeated using different words in order to emphasize or drive a point home in a creative writing context.

However, and it's important to note this, in most cases, tautology is more of an error than a conscious strategy in writing. It can be subjective as to what is considered necessary repetition, but generally, if the word or phrase is redundant and can be eliminated without changing the meaning, then it is a tautology and should be avoided. Writers should strive to eradicate tautologies in their work, as it can come across as lazy or redundant, and detracts from the overall quality of the writing.

Some common examples of tautology in everyday speech include phrases like “free gift,” “close proximity,” “basic fundamentals,” or “necessary requirements.” While these examples might seem harmless, in writing, they can be viewed as dull truisms, and the lack of precision can weaken the writer’s argument or point.

When Two is Too Many: Examples of Tautology in Literature
Here are two examples of authors successfully and intentionally using tautology to create effect and emphasis in their creative writing.
The False Friend by Myla Goldberg

Goldberg’s skillful use of tautology in The False Friend creates tension and emphasizes the protagonist’s internal conflict when she is called back to her hometown in search of answers: “I thought I remembered and knew the story forward and backward, but I’d never until that day considered the possibility that I might be remembering it wrong.”

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy uses a tautology to create a sense of oppressive monotony in The Road when describing the landscape of the post-apocalyptic world: “The wasteland stretches to the horizon… a flat stone bedded in a desert of ash. No trace of the road that had brought them there.”