I know there is a term for the use of adjectives, and maybe adverbs, that are unnecessary or logically redundant. Examples are: -a free gift -a cold snow

  • 1
    Tautology, pleonasm: needless repetition of the same sense in different words; redundancy. Possible duplicate:english.stackexchange.com/questions/101830/…
    – user66974
    Dec 9, 2014 at 16:28
  • Not especially for redudant adj. but what about 'superfluous'.When something is so unnecessary that it could easily be done away with, like a fifth wheel on a car.
    – Misti
    Dec 9, 2014 at 16:31
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    @MystiSinha In fact, it sounds like its unnecessarily superfluous.
    – bib
    Dec 9, 2014 at 16:51
  • @bib, admirable verbosity.thx.
    – Misti
    Dec 9, 2014 at 16:59
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    There is no exact term, because there is no exact measure of what's unnecessary or what's redundant, at least in general. Everybody understands differently -- you may have noticed -- and some people require repetition in order to understand, or merely to get their attention. As any teacher or parent can tell you. Dec 9, 2014 at 18:34

2 Answers 2


Yes, the correct term is pleonasm. These adjectives are pleonastic.

Pleonasm - is the use of more words or parts of words than is necessary for clear expression

It is often used rhetorically for emphasis. It is also common in pro-drop languages for emphasis.

There is one particularly notable example of this rhetorical construction. In the Greek Bible there is a big deal made about the various "I am" statements made by Jesus, "I am the way the truth and the light" etc. The Greek specifically says "ἐγώ εἰμί" which has a pleonastic pronound "ἐγώ" which is to say that it means the same even if you drop the pronoun, Greek being a pro-drop language. This marks the expression out as rhetorically significant and supposedly is an allusion to Exodus 3:14, which, ironically, does not have a pleonastic pronoun, even though Hebrew is also pro-drop.


Yes: “non-restrictive”. Entities typically have a number of attributes, and those that the speaker wishes to focus the attention of the audience on are explicitly named. In extreme cases, such as the two you cite, this might seem pointless (totally redundant, pleonastic), but even in these two cases there is justification for their use. To take your first example (“free gift”), not everything free is a gift (for example, a windfall), and so “gift” not necessarily required after “free”. Nor is every gift free: the white elephant is the standard example of a costly gift. To take your second example (“cold snow”), given that a snow has occurred, or is under discussion, what aspect of it should we be considering? It might have been deep, for example. But no, the speaker wishes to call attention to its temperature, a perfectly valid consideration. Furthermore, it can be argued that snow is not necessarily cold. Terms like “hot” and “cold” are usually used relatively, that is, as deviations from a standard. For example “cold fusion” does not refer to fusion below customary room temperature, but to temperatures significantly less than that of the sun, and the “warm” beer consumed by the British is not actually above room temperature, but above the temperature favored by Mercans. As is well known, other things being equal, a winter day with a clear sky is much colder than a winter day that is overcast (because the cloud cover keeps to heat radiated by the Earth from escaping back into space). So, the intended meaning of a “cold” snow could be that of a snowfall that is followed soon by a clear sky.

A common propaganda technique, of course, is to introduce a derogatory adjective (as in “dirty capitalists”), claiming it is restrictive (who wouldn’t be willing to disapprove of those of the capitalists that are dirty?), and then silently promote it to the status of being non-restrictive, the subtext now being that all capitalists are dirty.

You can easily find discussion of the distinction between “restrictive” and “non-restrictive” on the web. One in particular that I will recommend is that of Michael Quinion: http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/which.htm

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