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I was reading the novel Verity, and I came across the phrase "slightly ajar door". I didn't know what ajar meant and I looked it up to find it means (of a door) slightly open. I wonder if "slightly ajar" is a tautology and is grammatically incorrect? Since it is used by the author who must be much better than me at english to make such a mistake, I wonder if tautology is also a writing tool used by the author or is it simply a mistake?

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    Tautologies are not grammatically incorrect. Why do you think they are? They might be bad writing in some contexts, but not everything that's bad writing is ungrammatical - repetition, vagueness, mixed metaphors, poor logic, excessive vulgarity, and many other things would be bad writing but not ungrammatical.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 16, 2023 at 22:44
  • It is not a tautology in the slightest. That word doesn't mean what you think it means. Whether the phrase is redundant is probably the question you meant to ask. Aug 18, 2023 at 19:36

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Redundancy or a pleonasm can be a device used by an author. That doesn't make it a grammar mistake. In some contexts, redundancy is avoided, but in many contexts it is just a natural aspect of language, and occurs in every natural language (including your native language).

However, could there be different degrees of "being ajar"? I think there could be; the door could be ajar with a 20cm gap, or ajar with a 0.5 cm gap. So there is nothing actually redundant with saying that the door is "slightly ajar".

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No, it is not a tautology.

'Ajar' means the door is partially open, or neither open nor closed. There are lots of gradations in between open and closed, so it seems perfectly reasonable to use an adverb such as 'slightly' to describe that degree.

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    Yes, thus one might describe a door as being “only slightly ajar.” [note the modifier only, which here serves to specify which of @Astralbee’s gradations is the case] Aug 16, 2023 at 13:37
  • on the other hand, a door must be either shut or open :)
    – njzk2
    Aug 16, 2023 at 16:45
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    @njzk2 I would not consider a door with just a 0.5 cm gap to be "open" (as you can't walk through it without moving it), but it's certainly not shut either. -- Unless you're taking "open" to mean "not locked". But even then a door can be "open" (unlocked) and "shut" (snug in the door-frame) at the same time. (As is often the case when "come in, the door is open!" is used.)
    – R.M.
    Aug 16, 2023 at 17:30
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    @R.M. The door you describe is clearly clopen. Aug 17, 2023 at 2:56
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    @njzk2 As a midwestern American, this is the first time I've heard that proverb. Your point is clever, but for those of us who were unfamiliar with the proverb it sounded like you were making a literal claim. :-)
    – M. Justin
    Aug 17, 2023 at 17:15
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The phrase "slightly ajar" could be considered a bit redundant, but it's not necessarily a clear-cut tautology. "Ajar" itself means slightly open, so adding "slightly" before it might seem redundant, as "ajar" already implies a degree of openness. However, using "slightly" in this context could be seen as a way to emphasize just how minimally open something is. It's a matter of style and how the speaker or writer wants to convey the level of openness.

Tautology is the repetition of the same meaning in different words, often leading to redundancy. While "slightly ajar" could be seen as leaning toward redundancy, it's not as glaringly redundant as some other tautological phrases. It might be considered more of a stylistic choice than a clear-cut example of a tautology.

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  • Under the circumstances, a much better (and indeed more accurate) definition of "ajar" would be "partially open".
    – MikeB
    Aug 18, 2023 at 12:25
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It is, a bit. A wee bit. A wee little tiny bit.

Or perhaps not.

Stringing redundancies together can function as a tool for emphasis or relative degree.

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There are still useful gradations within ajar. To compare it to a more every day example someone may say something is ice cold - cold implies the temperature is below room temperature, but ice cold allows you to get a better idea of the range we're in.

Just as ajar lets us know the door is open a little, slightly ajar lets us know that, even within the range of ajar, the opening is particularly small.

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A door can be ajar if a cat, but not a human, can walk through it. It can also be ajar if the cat can insert her paw and pull in order to render it less ajar. This latter initial situation might well be described as "slightly ajar" to distinguish it from the former.

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