My text says that : Redundancy refers to information that is expressed more than once. Ex:Forever and ever, past history Tautology refers to phrases that repeats a meaning with different though semantically similar words. Ex: Free gift I really can't understand the difference. Is there even any? Are they both the same?

  • I don't believe that English usage bears out the distinction that your text makes. I think that your text (like some of the answers below) is trying to find a principled distinction where there isn't one. Some speakers may make the distinction, but many do not.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 28, 2015 at 11:01

7 Answers 7


The word tautology has several different senses, depending upon its field of use.

A grammatical tautology is little different from redundancy. It just means that the same thing is repeated twice using different words.

Rhetorical and logical tautologies are more interesting.

A logical tautology is a proposition that is true given any possible variables.

A rhetorical tautology is a statement that is logically irrefutable. This can be by repetition, but in its more nuanced form it is done by stating things in such a way that it fails to make a point, while obscuring this fact in the language which is used.

So, for example:

"Either we will live or we will die."

There is no repetition in this statement, but it is nevertheless a rhetorical tautology.

Rhetorical tautologies are meant to sound profound, but they add nothing to a conversation because they literally make no point.

  • I disagree with your last point. Sure literally "we will live or we will die" is always true. However, you are introducing the possibility of death during forthcoming events. Under normal circumstances this is highly unlikely; it introduces a concept, specially as two potential outcomes of a situation.
    – niico
    May 5, 2017 at 20:37
  • Tautologies exist within a context. The tautology does not create the context. In this case the statement is made in the context where death is already a reasonable possibility. QED.
    – teilo
    May 7, 2017 at 4:15
  • You're proving my point for me. The person is saying "Either we will live or we will die." because death is already a reasonable possibility (this is an unusual situation). Therefore, it draws attention to an unusual situation; the heightened likelihood of death. Thus, it adds something to the conversation. QED. I can think of no likely situation where somebody might say "Either we will live or we will die.", in the context of it adding nothing to a conversation (ie no change in the likelihood of life or death). Also in your answer "literally" is itself a tautology :D
    – niico
    May 7, 2017 at 10:39
  • You are being pedantic. Please stop.
    – teilo
    May 8, 2017 at 3:36
  • My work here is done.
    – niico
    May 9, 2017 at 7:30

Tautology is redundancies within phrases. Redundancy is any kind of repetition: phrases, sentences, paragraphs, entire books, it's all the same; the scale isn't important.


A tautology refers to phrasing that repeats a single meaning in identical words:

They followed each other one after the other in succession.

Succession means one after the other.

Redundancy refers to multiple phrasings that are no more meaningful together than one of the phrasings by itself. My favorite is the legalism found in contracts and trusts that empowers someone to take action

at any time and from time to time

These are two different things: "At any time" means without temporal restriction, and "from time to time" means sporadically. But they're redundant because if you may do one, then you may do the other.

Note that redundancy is bad style when it appears in a definitional sense like the "succession" example. Grammatical tautology falls into this category. Other redundant language is acceptable for emphatic rhetorical effect:

I am completely, thoroughly, and totally angry with you.

or to make a subtle semantic point -- a free gift is one comes without obligation as opposed to those other things that people call gifts, but which come with strings attached.

  • I like to reserve redundancy to describe the over-use of a word or phrase within a short time period or piece of writing.
    – WS2
    Nov 28, 2015 at 20:06

The OED gives several different senses for tautology. Some of them confirm the points that have already been made in answer to this post, where the same thing is stated more than once using synonymous words and expressions.

However the OED sense which has most resonance with my understanding of the term is meaning 4:

  1. An argument, explanation, or definition that merely restates in different words the very thing which is to be explained, shown, or defined; a failure fully to separate cause from effect in explaining an event, phenomenon, etc.

1997 J. D. Moore Visions of Culture xiii. 178 ‘I am taller than other people because most people are shorter than I am’ is a tautology.

I am not saying other uses of tautology are wrong, indeed the OED supports them. But for my own part tautology infers an attempted explanation which is no explanation at all, simply a synonymous expression. For other senses of tautology, I would personally tend to use redundancy, or synonymous.

  • +1 for bothering to supply a reference. Though I'm sure this has been addressed here before (but I'm making a point about references or rather the lack of them). Nov 28, 2015 at 12:29
  • "I am taller than other people because most people are shorter than I am." There is hardly anything you could place after "because" that would not be tautologous, other than perhaps "both my parents were very tall."
    – Cargill
    Nov 28, 2015 at 19:48
  • @Cargill Or ...because I eat spinach. It doesn't have to have any basis in science or fact to be grammatically non-tautologous.
    – WS2
    Nov 28, 2015 at 20:03
  • @WS2 Point taken - I expect I was limiting myself to the realm of reasonableness and likely answers, but concede I overlooked the nutritional benefits of spinach!
    – Cargill
    Nov 29, 2015 at 5:08

All of the above answers say most of what needs to be said. I'll just contribute a small etymological note:

tautology comes from the Greek word tautalogos, a contraction of to auton (the same thing) and logos (word, speech, reason, argument).

redundancy comes from the Latin verb redundare, which means to overflow or to be abundant. This is a simpler word, I think; one that connotes mere repetition rather than logical fallacy (which is what a tautology is).


The law for some reason has more than its share of redundant terminology - law and order, cease and desist, null and void, without let or hindrance, and many more.

Apart from grammar and syntax, tautology is also concerned with logical (or illogical) formulations where things are said unnecessarily, because they could not be any other way, and they're far more common in both creative writing and journalism than one might think:

  • Before she died, my grandmother used to walk to the shops every day.
  • When the plane came to a stop, we disembarked.
  • It's raining outside.
  • The accident happened at 2:00 am this morning.
  • Annual Fees are to be paid in four quarterly instalments.

If you start looking, you see and hear them everywhere.


I consider redundancies to be the use of an extra word, whereas tautologies are the statements which equate that which is already equal: “I drew a round circle” as opposed to “My circle was round.” In the first, “round” is redundant, but at least the sentence tells us one fact, that I drew it, so the sentence was not a compleat waste of time. In the second, no information is given at all.

  • 1
    Hi cflpeace, welcome to EL&U. This isn't a bad start, but you don't provide any supporting evidence to differentiate your answer from mere personal opinion. An answer on EL&U is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct. You might like to edit your answer to provide the necessary detail. For further guidance, see How to Answer and take the EL&U Tour :-) Jan 31, 2019 at 11:44

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