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Tautology

Tautology
  • By definition, a requirement is necessary.

"Over-exaggerate"

  • This doesn't mean anything different from "exaggerate."

"Nuclear weapons of mass destruction"

  • By definition, nuclear weapons create mass destruction.

"Died from a fatal wound"

  • By definition, fatal wounds kill.

To avoid tautologies in your own writing, check yourself as you write. You might use a tautology on accident.

A contradiction expresses mutually exclusive ideas as true.

Here's a contradiction:

John, who doesn't understand math, has solved yet another complex math problem.

By definition, to "solve" something, you have to understand it. There's a minuscule chance John guessed the correct answer to the math problem, but he couldn't possibly explain how he arrived at that answer — a requirement to actually solve the problem.

While some information in a contradiction might be true (maybe John doesn't understand math!), the result is incorrect. On the other hand, a tautology is not strictly incorrect; it's simply pointless.

Here's a tautology that includes similar information:

John solved a math problem using math.

This statement is redundant because, as you know, solving a math problem requires math by definition. Therefore, the above statement serves no useful purpose. It could as easily be, "John solved a math problem."

This covers the main kinds of tautology in linguistics and how to tell them apart from other concepts.

Tautology - Key Takeaways

  • A tautology is an expression of the same thing twice.
  • Often, a tautology describes something as itself.
  • A self-eliminating tautology presents two alternatives that include every possible option.
  • A pleonasm is the use of superfluous words to create redundancy in a sentence. The definition of pleonasm focuses on superfluous words, while the definition of tautology focuses on the repetition of ideas.
  • A tautology differs more drastically from a contradiction than it does from a pleonasm. A contradiction expresses mutually exclusive ideas as true.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tautology

A tautology is an expression of the same thing twice. Often, a tautology describes something as itself.

An example of tautology is: "John solved a math problem using math." This is redundant because solving a math problem requires math by definition.

A tautology is an expression of the same thing twice. A pleonasm is the use of superfluous words to create redundancy in a sentence. The definition of pleonasm focuses on superfluous words, while the definition of tautology focuses on the repetition of ideas.

Depending on how you use it, a tautology can be a rhetorical device, a figure of speech, or a stylistic error.

A contradiction expresses mutually exclusive ideas as true. On the other hand, a tautology is an expression of the same thing twice.

Final Tautology Quiz

Question

Which might a tautology contain?

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Answer

Denotative meaning

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Question

This is the use of superfluous words to create redundancy in a sentence.

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Pleonasm

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Question

This presents two alternatives that include every possible option.

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Answer

Self-eliminating tautology

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Question

It expresses mutually exclusive ideas as true.

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Contradiction

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Question

It is an expression of the same thing twice.

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Tautology

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Question

Often, it describes something as itself.

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Answer

Tautology

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Question

Depending on how you use it, a tautology can be a:

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Rhetorical device

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Question

Although a tautology contains no denotative meaning, what can it contain?

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Answer

Connotative meaning. Consider "It is what it is." Connotatively, people know it means, "I (or you) must accept this situation."

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Question

_____ is essential in defining a tautology.

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Answer

Proximity

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Question

Which is not a tautology?

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True crime

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Question

What is the following?


"You either fight, or you don't."

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Answer

A self-eliminating tautology

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Question

A self-eliminating tautology is pointless.

True or false?

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Answer

False. Self-eliminating tautologies can add emphasis to a situation. For example, one boyfriend might say to the other, "We love each other, or we don't," to draw attention to the problems in their relationship.

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Question

A tautology is totally distinct from a pleonasm.

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Answer

False

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Question

Is this better described as a tautology or a pleonasm?


"The gentle breeze has a soft quality."

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Answer

A tautology because, by definition, something "gentle" possesses a soft quality.

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Question

Is this better described as a tautology or a pleonasm?


"The bright and radiant sun burned our eyes."

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Answer

"Bright and radiant" is a pleonasm because the description is redundant; however, the overall sentence expresses something original.

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Question

What is the difference between denotative meaning and connotative meaning?

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Answer

The denotative meaning of something is its "by the book" or dictionary meaning. The connotative meaning of something is its social or contextual meaning.

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