Grammar Moses: Repeat after me ... Don't be redundant

As I've written before, repetition can be used quite effectively in writing, especially if you're crafting a song. You want the refrain to really tie the tune together.

The refrain in English band ABC's 1985 release "Be Near Me" takes that to the extreme:

Be near me, be near

Be near me, be near

Be near

You'll have to turn on your Spotify machine to listen to the song, if you're interested.

It's difficult, however, to come up with a reason for redundancy in your writing being a good thing.

Reader David Schein believes this, too.

"Two expressions driving me nuts: 'in close proximity' and 'immediately adjacent.'" he wrote. "'Close' means approximate, and 'proximate' means near, so why do we need the 'close' if it already is? Similarly, 'adjacent' means next to, so how can you be closer than next to something?"

David is correct, of course. Neither "close" nor "immediate" is needed in those cases.

Hold that thought. Is there wiggle room for them when context is important?

If an astrophysicist tells you something is close to something else, those things could still be light years apart.

If a particle physicist says something is close to something else, it could be the space between quarks, something that's darn near theoretical.

Imagine a conversation between those two people. Would they use redundant modifiers to make their point?

Not likely. The physicists I know would explain it with numbers rather than modifiers.

Come to think of it, I can't find a good reason to have redundancies in your writing. All they do is drag it down.

If you disagree, let me hear it.


Reader John Becker writes: "I hear headlines on the radio and read in the newspapers regarding collisions between trains and pedestrians, autos, bicycles, trucks, etc. The headline usually is some form of 'Train hits pedestrian' or 'Train hits car,' both truly sad occurrences in which 99% of the time it works out very badly for the person or object being hit by the train. However, to me, those headlines indicate the train is at fault, when 99% of the time it is the pedestrian, driver or bicyclist being careless or willful. Is there not some more neutral way to state what happened?"

John, first off "collision" is not a word that assesses blame. You might hear it that way, in the same way I was taken aback that "taken aback" doesn't necessarily have a negative connotation.

Our world is made up of things that smash into each other constantly. It's how energy is transferred.

"Collision between bicyclist and train" really begs for a verb and a result. Unless you have a man-bites-dog situation and a car derails the train, you pretty much know that the thing or person with which the train comes into contact is going to fare much worse.

Back to John's original point: If not "Train hits pedestrian," how about "Pedestrian struck by train"?

It's something I've seen in our own paper. And despite its passive construction, I find it preferable, especially when it's a school bus or a mother and three kids. It puts the most important part of the story first.

I hereby resolve

I wasn't flooded with grammar-related New Year's resolutions from you, but here is one from David Harding: "I resolve to detune my ear so I don't spend so much time upset by people using "lay" when they mean "lie" in all the various tenses."

He pointed to a recent front-page caption in another newspaper that said a doctor was examining a patient who was "laying" on a gurney.

I'm not lying.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at Write him at and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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