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Grammar and Style Brush-Up: Redundancy

September 21, 2011 by

Knowing the correct words and constructions is key to writing successful GRE essays, as well as statements of purpose, cover letters, and any academic and professional communications you will put forth in the future. So let’s brush up on grammar and style.

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), commonly referred to as simply “the essays,” give test-takers the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to organize and convey information. The AWA also grants test-takers the chance to show off both their vocabulary and their control of language — their mastery of the finer points of English composition that, when used correctly, allow a writer to precisely articulate exactly what he or she intends.

When I was in middle school, my English teacher had a note taped to her desk that said, “Department of Redundancy Department.” This captures the ridiculousness of the repetitive repetition that is redundancy. (What?)

In your essays, don’t use adjectives with nouns that don’t need further qualification. Don’t say a special reputation, serious crisis, or passing phase. Reputations are, by definition, special, just like crises are serious and phases are short-lived.

Strong writing gets to the point; excessive qualification weakens your message. “She is sort of a slow worker” includes unnecessary qualifiers and could be reworked to read, “She is a slow worker” or, “She works slowly.”

Words that do not require qualification should not be qualified. For example, there is no such thing as “most unique.” Unique means one-of-a-kind, and there aren’t DEGREES of one-of-a-kindness. Being more unique is like being more pregnant — there is no such thing.

Words that have qualifiers “built in” also should not be saddled with adjectives. Classmates, colleagues, and playmates all include the notion of camaraderie; there is no reason to say fellow classmates. Likewise, avoid using at some point in time — unless the reader is likely to believe you meant at some point in space, the time element is understood.

More isn’t always better. Using extra descriptors tells your reader you do not have a strong command of the English language. Following these conventions will enable you to craft strong essays on Test Day. The ability to write comfortably and correctly is an asset graduate programs and employers prize!

Have a question about grammar, punctuation, usage, or style? Email me at and put “blog question” in your subject line. Then look for a response here!


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