What Is Tautology?

A tautology is a way to express something more than once, using different words. The term comes from the ancient Greek, meaning a formula that is true in every definition. Tautology entered the field of propositional logic in 1921, with the work of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Although tautologies are considered a weak rhetorical device that detracts from the original statement rather than enhancing it, people use them all the time. Every time you are offered an “added bonus” or promised some “new innovation,” you’ve been subjected to another tautological statement.

How Do You Identify Tautology in Writing?

Not all redundancy is superfluous. Sometimes repetition of key words and phrases adds to the rhetorical power of a speech or the beauty of poetic language. Tautology, on the other hand, diminishes the power of language by giving the promise of intellectual or creative enrichment when, in fact, it only adds more words. Take the following tautology by actor Brook Shields:

  • “Smoking can kill you, and if you’ve been killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”

Rather than explain the consequence of death, Shields merely states the obvious: When you die, you’ve lost your life.

Examples of Tautology

Tautology Example 1. “If we do not succeed, we run the risk of failure.” — Dan Quayle

Tautology Example 2. Say it over again once more.

Tautology Example 3. They are giving out free gifts!

Tautology Example 4. “It’s deja vu all over again.” — Yogi Berra

Tautology Example 5. My first priority is to make sure the house is closed for the winter.


(View all literary devices)