The Grammarphobia Blog

Do we need a “pre” fix?

Q: Can we talk about “pre” words, most of which I find redundant? Why do we preheat the oven – aren’t we just heating it? A pre-recorded message is just recorded, a pre-addressed envelope is addressed, a pre-existing condition is existing, etc

A: Yes, many “pre” words are redundant. This is a recurrent complaint, and there’s not much more I can say except that indeed the “pre” is often unnecessary.

I just wrote to someone who wondered why his jeans were called “pre-washed.” Why not just “washed”?

In this case, the prefix might be justified if you argue that it means “washed prior to purchase.” Still, we sometimes can’t see the forest for the “pre”s! (Sorry, bad pun.)

[Note: We don’t consider “preexisting condition” redundant (and we don’t hyphenate it). We wrote a posting about this in 2012. ]

A good friend and former New York Times colleague, Merrill Perlman (another inveterate punner), has written about the subject for the Columbia Journalism Review’s Language Corner and has some interesting things to say.

“There’s no logical reason for some of these ‘pre’ uses,” she writes. “But then, few claim that English is logical.”

Check out Merrill’s column. I think she’s terrific (she inspired the title of this post), but perhaps I’m “pre-judiced.”

And if you’d “pre-fer” to read even more, I wrote a blog item recently about the origins of a “pre” word and a “pro” word.

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