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When one checks (something), would the purpose not be to ensure/make sure? What other purpose does checking have? Even if this a false assumption/argument (purpose equals definition), are there other ways to prove that "check to make sure" is a tautology?

Edit:

@FumbleFingers's comment reminded me of the exact usage I had in mind: e.g. "Check to make sure that there are no errors in this document."

  • Yes, 'to make sure' fulfils no semantic purpose. But it's got more than one pragmatic use: (1) As an emphasiser / encouraging device (2) Paradoxically, at the same time, as a hedging device (less stark than 'CHECK!'). – Edwin Ashworth Dec 5 '15 at 22:32
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    You can "check to make sure that ...", e.g. that your software is properly installed. Without a complement after "make sure", I agree that it's a pleonasm. – Graffito Dec 5 '15 at 22:32
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    Yes, one could argue that either "check" or "make sure" is redundant, but what of it?? The terminology helps to emphasize that the detail being examined is important and worthy of a little extra care. Redundancy, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. – Hot Licks Dec 5 '15 at 22:55
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    I'm not convinced you have to see the usage as completely redundant tautology. In my book, to check can simply mean to perform an inspection, investigate - this doesn't inherently imply making sure [that there are no problems]. – FumbleFingers Dec 5 '15 at 23:07
  • @FumbleFingers yeah, I agree with you on that. – michael_timofeev Dec 6 '15 at 1:39
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The three related sentences "check to make sure that X," "check whether X," and "make sure that X" all have different meanings. The first means to determine whether X, to take action ensuring X if you find that X isn't already the case, and to leave it alone if it is already the case. The second means just to determine whether X, but it does not require any action, whether or not X is already the case. The third means to ensure X, which you might be able to do without first determining whether X is already the case.

Yet another variant, "check that X," is nearly the same as "check to make sure that X," but it suggests more strongly the speaker's belief that X is already the case.

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The word check can mean many things, including "stop", "investigate" and "mark" (dictionary.com definitions 1, 4 and 7). In the context of air travel, checked baggage can even mean luggage that travels in the aircraft's hold.

"Check that bag" could be a request to place the bag into the hold, make sure specific contents are present, or an instruction to look inside the bag for contraband.

So although "check to make sure" is a tautology, the less ambiguous portion is "to make sure". That is, if the phrase were to be shortened, it would be better to leave out "check [to]" than "[to] make sure".

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    It also carries the connotation of checking something again, rather than the first time -- if you're "checking to make sure" that your English is good, you think it is, but you're giving it another once-over to be certain. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Dec 5 '15 at 23:09
  • @QPaysTaxes - Which is, of course, redundant. – Hot Licks Dec 7 '15 at 0:49
  • @HotLicks Not really. You can check something, then check again to make sure your original check was correct. Unless you mean that the make-sure check is redundant, in which case yes but man I'm confusing myself so I'm gonna lie down before I get a headache – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Dec 7 '15 at 1:56
  • @QPaysTaxes - Checking something again is by definition redundant, if there's no reason to believe it changed since the first check. But, as I've said repeatedly, there's nothing wrong with redundancy. – Hot Licks Dec 7 '15 at 2:24
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    @HotLicks Yeah, I was getting confused by the multiple connotations of redundant (unnecessary vs. extra) so I took a nap. Now it's pretty clear. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Dec 7 '15 at 2:25
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The implied action by "make sure" in the example sentence ("Check to make sure that there are no errors in this document.") in my edited question includes actually fixing the errors as opposed to checking and reporting there are/are not errors.

Taken from this angle, it doesn't seem to be a tautology.

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