Is "completely" redundant in "Women and men are completely equal"?

closed as off-topic by NVZ, Drew, tchrist Aug 12 '17 at 20:16

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  • 6
    It's not completely redundant. – Mari-Lou A Aug 12 '17 at 6:46
  • Yeah, it's got two Ls and two Es. – Hot Licks Aug 12 '17 at 12:38
  • We can say two things are "mostly equal" or "usually equal" or "almost equal". To contrast "equal" with that, we may say "completely equal". – GEdgar Aug 12 '17 at 14:04
  • Possible duplicate of die out completely?. See also Is 'very crucial' redundant? – AmE speaker Aug 12 '17 at 15:48

The human mind, and therefore human language, doesn't seem to like to deal with (binary) absolutes. Even though linguistically we may see many binary or absolute definitions, in usage speakers will tend to qualify even the simplest absolutes.

For example, strictly speaking, something is either wet or it is not, Yet nobody bats an eyelid at the idea of something being a bit wet or completely wet.

Some people take it to extremes. I have once had a teacher (a language teacher even) who regularly was looking for "more optimal solutions". Needles to say, another teacher (of Latin) cringed every time she heard it.

However, in general, absolutes are often not meant as absolutes. As a computer programmer I have noticed people don't always take kindly to a black/white, true/false absolute binary approach to language. If you want to get examples, try answering "yes" the next time someone asks you if you would like tea or coffee.

As for equality, mathematically it's absolute. Two things are equal, or they are not. However, in the real world mathematics holds less sway.

It is very common to compare "how equal" men and women are in different countries, for instance. I can't think of any native speaker thinking it strange when someone claims women are less equal to men in some countries than they are in others.

Because such absolutes are so often not treated as absolutes, it doesn't harm to specify an absolute when you actually mean it as such, as in completely equal.


Yes. The word "equal" requires there to be no difference between the two things being compared.

However, it is common (especially in colloquial English) to emphasize a comparison ("exactly the same," for example) to underscore the idea that the speaker will brook no discussion about possible gray areas.

"Are they the same?"

"I'm sure they're the same."

"You're sure? Because I'm not sure they're the same."

"Look, they're exactly the same!"

Benefitting Andrew Leach's comment: the mathematical symbol for "almost equal" is .

  • However, since two quantities can be "almost equal", grades of equality are possible. – Andrew Leach Aug 12 '17 at 14:17
  • Not really. Using the world of mathematics as a reference, something "almost equal" is identified using a squirlly equality symbol: ≈ (rats, I'll put that symbol in my answer so you can see it). While colloquially we regularlly presume "almost equal" or "equal enough," from a definitional standpoint, "equal" and "almost equal" are not equal. – JBH Aug 12 '17 at 14:21

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