I'm puzzled by the term "die out completely." It seems redundant, as the sense of completeness is implied in "die out" already. But "die out completely" is quite a natural term in English.

Would stylists oppose the use of this phrase? Would it be considered an imperfect use of English on the SAT or GMAT?

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    While I agree that it seems technically redundant, I can imagine certain contexts in which it is appropriate to emphasize the finality, completeness, or conclusiveness with which the declaration is made. That is, to distinguish it from cases where something has apparently, temporarily, locally, or only upon some preliminary judgment, died out. – MDHunter Mar 16 '17 at 12:27
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    It basically just emphasizes that the extinction is complete. It would not be uncommon for someone to say something like "Square dancing has died out" when there are, in fact, many people who still do it. In this case the term "died out" simply means "greatly reduced". – Hot Licks Mar 16 '17 at 12:35
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    As to whether this expression would be considered "valid" or "invalid" on some test, that depends on how constipated the test writer is. – Hot Licks Mar 16 '17 at 12:36
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    @Apollyon I'm not sure who 'you' is supposed to be in 'So you are actually weakening the sense of "die out"?' If you are correct when you say ' "die out completely" is quite a natural term in English' (and I wouldn't contest this), it's Anglophones in general who seem to think that "die out" is sometimes better reinforced. And surely that's because they perceive that 'die out' is used pragmatically as Hot Licks says. Do English teachers oppose other accepted usages like 'fairly unique', 'very full'? – Edwin Ashworth Mar 16 '17 at 12:52
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    In normal speech redundancy is not necessarily something to be avoided. It can add emphasis and in circumstances that evoke strong emotions that may be wanted. Although, in the alternate reality of examination rooms that may not matter. – Al Maki Mar 16 '17 at 16:12

The significance of die out (as opposed to simple die) can be seen in this Cambridge Dictionary definition...

die out - to become less common and finally stop existing (italics mine)

As with peter out (to gradually stop or disappear) and wear out (to become useless from long or excessive wear or use), the preposition primarily connotes the extended and continuous process, rather than the eventual end. It's worth noting that all these phrasal verbs often occur as continuous forms (dying out, petering out, wearing out), reflecting that connotation.

In the real world it's often not easy to say with certainty exactly when the relevant process has actually finished, which is why it's quite natural to say things like The species died out completely, This shirt is completely worn out when we want to emphasise that the (preceding) drawn-out process has reached its eventual conclusion.

In short, I don't sense any real tautology in such usages. In many contexts, the "extraneous" preposition out actually provides a useful way of being more precise in expressing exactly what we want to convey, but sometimes it's useful to include completely to ensure that the ongoing process connotations don't overshadow an intended reference to the end result.

Consider this written instance of...

1: The Camondo family died out
...and contrast it with the possible alternatives...
2: The Camondo family died
3: The Camondo family died out completely

...where he actual wording (#1) is both less "sudden" than #2 (perhaps they all died at the same time) and less "absolute" than #3 (it's quite certain there were no survivors).

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  • Yes, it is idiomatic: Out: used to make the meaning of a word stronger: - We walked all day and were tired out (= very tired) by the time we got home. It's up to you to sort this out (= deal with it completely). dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/out – user66974 Mar 16 '17 at 14:03
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    @Josh: Actually, what I'm saying is that out doesn't really make the meaning (of die, peter, wear) stronger so much as shift the focus to the drawn-out process. Which is precisely why it feels natural to add the word completely if we want to emphasise that the process was both extended, and has now reached its conclusion. – FumbleFingers Mar 16 '17 at 14:23
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    Think of a plant species or a patch of poison oak. You spray it; it dies, but it does not die out completely. Under the ground the roots live, sending up shoots elsewhere. It's hard to make it "die out completely." – Xanne Mar 16 '17 at 23:23

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