Alarm #3: Re-verberations


Reverberations are loud echoes, and a key to catching unwanted echoes in our writing is setting alarms on common traps so the lack of economy comes through loud and clear. Redundancies like “ATM machine” and “Please RSVP” are well known, but many others seldom get mentioned.

We’ll address many of those redundancy traps in future posts, but today let’s stick with the alarm we should set on “re-.” That said, how would you improve the following sentences?

1. Now I’ll ask you a few questions that require you to reflect back on your schooling.

2. We need to make sure we don’t revert back to our marketing missteps during the last campaign.

3. Clyde’s productivity seems to be regressing back toward his low point last summer.

4. Please repeat your idea again now that Claire has joined the conversation.

You nailed ’em, right? That alarm you just set on “re-” enabled you to catch the redundancies immediately. The words “reflect,” “revert,” and “regressing” all refer to something in the past, so “back” is superfluous in the first three sentences. “Back” should be deleted.

As for “repeat … again” in the fourth sentence, that’s usually redundant, but what if you have already repeated something once? Then it’s true that you are now repeating yourself again (expressing something for the third time). At a noisy party you might need to ask several people to repeat themselves again during the evening, but ordinarily “again” is redundant after words like “repeat” and “redo.”

Another “re” word

Having nothing to do with the previous examples, one more word beginning with “re” that we need to handle with care is “reason.” Check out these sentences:

1. Let me tell you the reason why I advocated the July date.

2. The reason Cliff was late was because he forgot to set his clock ahead. 

You’re ahead of me again, aren’t you? Even though “reason why” is reasonably well accepted, you saw in #1 that all we need is “the reason” or “why,” not both. And in #2 we don’t need “reason” and “because.” Each of these sentences is more concise:

Cliff was late because he forgot to set his clock ahead.
The reason Cliff was late was that he forgot to set his clock ahead.
The reason Cliff was late was forgetting to set his clock ahead.

If you are inferring from these three improved sentences that “reason” deserves two alarms –one telling us to be on guard for a redundancy later in the sentence and one warning us that starting a sentence with “The reason” is often unnecessary – I agree with you.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at

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