The Grammarphobia Blog

Is conciser always nicer?

Q: I don’t see the need for including “different” in a sentence like “He visited 14 different countries on his tour.” Does “different” serve to emphasize an unusually large number for an activity? Or is it simply redundant?

A: In an expression like “14 different countries,” the word “different” is of course optional. Although it’s not necessary, the writer or speaker many be using it for emphasis.

Depending on the context, it may or may not be an outright redundancy. For example, a traveling salesman might want to use the word “different” to emphasize that he visited some countries more than once: “Last year I made 25 sales trips to 14 different countries.”

But if someone were to ask, for instance, how many people were coming to dinner, I would respond, “Eight people.” I certainly wouldn’t say, “Eight different people.” There would be no justification for such a redundancy.

I suppose what I’m saying is that some redundancies are more redundant than others.

If you don’t think it’s redundant to read on, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) has an informative usage note on “redundancy.”

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