Why I find both bothersome

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Both shelves are lined with books

As a provider of professional English writing services, I have always found both a bother in the language. I find that it is used in many, many phrases as a redundant word. However, grammarians do not seem to have cause to edit this word out and some of the most highly respected publications throw in the word ‘both’ with gay abandon, not paying heed to its redundant placing in a sentence.

Having spent many years as a sub-editor working to a ‘less is more’ protocol, every word must count.


Thus, both is bothersome because it is so often superfluous. For example, in the sentence ‘Kevin and James both have measles,’ the sentence can stand and mean the same thing if you write, ‘Kevin and James have measles’. ‘And’, is a very efficient little word and does the job just fine. However, if you write ‘Kevin and James are sick, they both have Covid,’ ‘both’ is functional in its own right. (At this point the sickness hasn’t been identified and ‘both’ helps to explain it.)

If your write, “Catherine has two kids. Both are at nursery school,’” both has a perfectly good function. But, in most cases where the word ‘and’ is used to couple two nouns, both is unnecessary and does not add to or clarify the meaning.


I particularly dislike, ‘Both Jake and Bill are top business men’, when ‘Jake and Bill are top businessmen,’ does the job adequately. I do not see a fit purpose for ‘both’ in this sentence. When you use the pronoun ‘they’ referring to two previously mentioned individuals’, then of course use ‘both’ to explain, role, illness, preferred whiskey etc.

I urge all practitioners of written English to dispense with an over-reliance on both, and only use it when absolutely necessary.

I also welcome discussion on this topic and would like to learn more about the origins of the usage of the word ‘both’.

All grammarians and practitioners of the English language welcome.

Grammar: Prevent or avoid

Words and Phrases: Of Mondegreens and Mishearings

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