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This came up as a multiple-choice question in an exam. Is using "very crucial" redundant?. . . or tautology?

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I think this is essentially a duplicate of Are the rules regarding absolute modifiers too absolute?. Note that very crucial is uncommon, but I don't think that's because it's tautological/redundant - witness the commonplace absolutely crucial, which from a pedant's point of view should be far more unacceptable. It's just not a collocation we happen to use much. –  FumbleFingers Jun 10 '12 at 14:10
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up vote 18 down vote accepted

Tautology is the inclusion of words that have the same meaning as other words already used. So, and vital make the following sentence tautologous:

  • Your contribution is crucial and vital

since crucial and vital are synonymous.

Redundancy occurs when a word is used that adds no extra information to the words already used. So the very in very crucial is redundant because crucial already means very important.

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Slightly off-topic: Would the "very" when saying something is "very crucial" compared to something else that is merely crucial still be redundant? –  Daniel Jun 10 '12 at 9:25
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Crucial belongs in the same category of non-gradable adjectives as essential, terrible, huge, superb. and so on. It is unnecessary to qualify such adjectives with very because the words themselves convey the meaning of very (important, bad, large, good). It is often a sign of an unsophisticated writer to add qualifiers to such adjectives. In fact, for me, very crucial sounds less important than just crucial. –  Shoe Jun 10 '12 at 9:44
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How about the sentence "This is our most crucial task."? –  Ilya Melamed Jun 10 '12 at 10:18
    
You can have several crucial tasks, i.e. they are all very important, but there is one that is the most important of all. So, This is our most crucial task is perfectly ok, and the most adds information that is not inherently conveyed by the word crucial. But the very in This is a very crucial task adds no such extra information, and is therefore redundant. –  Shoe Jun 10 '12 at 11:15
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I don't think very is necessarily redundant here--when you follow very by any adjective, whether it be fat or crucial, you are comparing it to something, perhaps to most of the other items in its category. If it is possible to compare tasks and conclude that one task is more crucial than another, then it is perfectly plausible to use very with crucial the same as you would use very with any other adjective. –  Peter Olson Jun 10 '12 at 14:10
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I'd say it is both redundant and a tautology. Another interesting word for it is a:

pleonasm: The use of more words than are required to express an idea; redundancy.

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I thought "foot pedal" was a pleonasm... Very crucial does not sound like a pleonasm –  mplungjan Jun 10 '12 at 14:07
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I'll disagree with the other answers here and say that it isn't actually redundant (and is certainly not a tautology).

When you use the word very with any adjective, you are communicating that the adjective applies greater than normal to the noun that it modifies. That is, a very fat man conveys a higher grade of fatness than just a plain fat man. Any adjective that is comparable can be elevated with very.

Even words that include such elevation in their definition can be compared: one person can be more terrible than another, one architectual work can be more superb than another, one object can be more huge than another, and, yes, one person can have more unique qualities than another and thus be more unique.

Crucial is among these. It is trivial to come up with an example where you can have varying magnitudes of cruciality.

We are closing in on our deadline and we have many crucial tasks that we need to complete before we ship our product. That said, we have two very crucial tasks that we need to attend to the most.

Admittedly, this may be bad style and it may seem too repetitive to reuse the same adjective, but this is merely a stylistic redundancy issue, rather than a semantic issue.

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Nice job of explaining how very crucial can be used legitimately. It makes me wonder what the testers had to say in their multiple choice exam. –  J.R. Jun 11 '12 at 1:59
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In the context of a test I would certainly afirm that it is redundant. A test is like a game where you try to guess how the test writer wanted you to answer. –  disinter Jun 14 '12 at 18:48
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Another example of this is the modern monstrosity 'very unique.' The 'very' is unnecessary; things are unique (one exists) or they are not.

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