What’s Wrong With a Free Gift?

What’s Wrong With a Free Gift?

It’s a tautology.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines tautology as ‘the use of two words or phrases that express the same meaning, in a way that is unnecessary and usually unintentional.’

A gift is free. If you had to pay, it wouldn’t be a gift. When someone advertises a ‘free gift’, they’re basically saying ‘free free item’ or maybe ‘gift present’.

Perhaps because it’s not grammatically incorrect, tautology isn’t something you’ll learn about in school. And that could be why there’s so much of it around.

After free gift, I suspect the next most common tautology is moment in time. A moment is a unit of time, so the words ‘in time’ are unnecessary. Nobody is going to think you might mean ‘a moment in weight’, for example.

Now and then I see a headline which refers to true facts and I wonder how a fact can ever be false.

Revert back, lifeless corpse, kills bugs dead – formal letters, product labels, thrillers; you can find tautologies everywhere.

Although tautology isn’t a grammar issue, it is considered to be a fault of style. The question is does it matter?

I think it does, especially if you are in the writing trade. Not necessarily because it’s a style fault but because it makes you look ignorant of word definitions or guilty of adding unnecessary words to pad your writing. My opinion is shared by Your Dictionary, which also provides more examples of the different types of tautology at https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-tautology.html.

Out of interest, of all the examples I’ve given above, Word has only flagged up revert back as an issue. Grammarly also picked up lifeless corpse, free gift and true facts but it passed moment in time and kills bugs dead.

The good news is a bit of awareness and common sense can be more effective than Grammarly or similar software. Once you begin noticing examples of tautology around you, you’ll find yourself looking out for it in your own writing.   

Or you can always use a good copy editor (like me!) to check your work for potentially embarrassing style issues.

#writingstyle #englishgrammar #tautology #copyediting #writingtip

1 thought on “What’s Wrong With a Free Gift?”

  1. Thank you for teaching me a new word. I love words. I also love reading stupidity so that I can share it with my intelligent siblings.
    Another example of tautology. The weather was broiling hot. That only occurred to me because I live in New York City and I’m sure people say it.


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