The Oxford online dictionary defines "pre-plan" as to "plan in advance". But isn't that generally the point of planning - to do it in advance?

  • 2
    I feel obliged to point out that George Carlin had a wonderful rant about this use of the prefix pre- in his "Airline Announcements" sketch, citing pre-planning amongst pre-heating, pre-boarding, pre-recorded and pre-existing. He argues (in somewhat ruder terms) that pre- in these neologisms is entirely superfluous, used only to pretty up the original word in order to sound more important. "What does it mean to pre-board? You get on before you get on?" – SáT Apr 23 '14 at 23:14

I think it is used more in the context of planning about planning. Or more explicitly, it conveys to the other person that there will be, at a minimum, another round of planning after the pre-planning to solidify the plans. I see it more as a way to differentiate with one-shot planning.

  • 2
    +1 - I agree. One other use I might mention is planning well in advance of when it is usually done. For example, funerals are usually planned at the time of a loved one's death. If someone planned their own funeral while they were well (to spare the bereaved), I'd call this pre-planning. – anongoodnurse Apr 23 '14 at 22:56
  • that's a good example @medica – timpone Apr 23 '14 at 23:45
  • ... But it wouldn't really work for 'post-planning'. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 25 '14 at 15:18

pre-planning is similar to over-exaggerate and very unique. They are evidence of the cognitive decay of post-modern society, where discipline and complexity give way to flaccid simple-mindedness.


I was going to post a question on this very topic, but luckily I checked and saw this post, so I will attempt to answer it myself.

I fully agree with the OP, the act of planning is to make arrangements in advance, so how do you plan before planning something? To plan means to prepare ahead, regardless of how much time in advance.

For example, I can plan tonight's meal in the morning or plan a week ahead, the time I set aside for making that decision is irrelevant. Do I pre-plan the Christmas dinner sometime in November and then properly plan the holiday meal a week before? I can foresee that some guests may not turn up on the day and make the necessary adjustments, but if someone informs me they have suddenly become a vegan, I am forced to modify my earlier (or original) plan by making a new one.

A user commented that one might pre-plan a relative's funeral before their actual demise. I would describe that action as forward thinking or a prearranged funeral. The concept of people who make prearrangements for their retirements is equally understood.

forward thinking; planning or tending to plan for the future; forward-looking.

AFDA (Australian Funeral Directors Association)
A Pre-Arranged Funeral is where a client may discuss with a Funeral Director their preferences for a type and style of funeral and the Funeral Director may record these preferences for future reference, but no formal agreement is entered into for that specific funeral.

Although I searched fairly extensively, I didn't find any references as to the origins of pre-plan. According to Etymonline pre-arranged and prearranged have existed since 1792 but there is no mention of pre-plan.

The website Grammarist calls the expression a redundancy "...the use of two or more words that say the same thing, but we also use the term to refer to any expression in which a modifier’s meaning is contained in the word it modifies (e.g., early beginnings, merge together, return back)"

My treasured The Chambers Dictionary (12th edition) argues that pre-plan is one of 52 words that don't impress. I will list a few of these terms.

While there are some words which, when used correctly, help to express yourself succinctly and elegantly, there are others—intended primarily to impress—that are vague, clumsy, or even unnecessary, and serve only to leave your listener cold. The business world in particular is a rich source of these

  • actualize (to do)
  • architect (verb; to build, make)
  • cascade (to disseminate from the top down: Please cascade this information through your teams)
  • diarize (to arrange a date for sth: Let's diarize a meeting)
  • guesstimate (a rough guess)
  • impactful (having impact)
  • monetize (to make money from something: How can we monetize our web content?)
  • performance indicator (a measure of success)
  • pre-plan (to plan)
  • retask (to give someone or something a different task)
  • value proposition (a selling point)

In other words, pre-plan is a business buzz word which sounds impressive until you actually stop and think about it.

  • In respone to anyone searching through EL&U archives. I have since modified my opinion, although I still persist in thinking it is redundant, pre-plan is far older than I had originally thought; and it has several possible meanings. I will in due course edit/improve on this answer :) – Mari-Lou A Feb 15 '15 at 11:23

For me, I use pre-plan/ning to mean being prepared for the contingencies, predictable or unpredictable, that may occur based on the "original" plans.

For example, we may plan to bring water for ourselves for a trip to the beach with friends, but might bring extra (pre-plan) for friends who forgot to bring their own, did not bring enough for themselves, or you are not sure how thirsty you might get.

I use pre-planning as the sub-set of plans to address contingencies that are inherent in any plan.


'Pre-plan' is a tautology, nothing more nothing less. 'pre' means before, 'plan' means to work out a course of action or have a scheme for doing something. You cannot, by definition, plan to do something after you've done it or even while your doing it. It's a bit like saying '7 a.m. in the morning'.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.