In a recent issue of the London Review of Books, a professional translator of French into English writes, "In the field of translation studies, it is a commonplace that that good English doesn't mind and often prefers repetition, while good French prefers and often insists on synonyms--a habit sometimes referred to in English (not always in a positive way) as "elegant variation." He notes that when translating, he frequently finds himself replacing French synonyms with English repetitions in order to create good English style. In writing programs such as ProWriter, repetitions are noted and implicitly discouraged. No proximate repetitions seems to be the goal. Aside from judging by ear, when should repetitions (he, she, they, a character's name, etc.) be excised?

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    The question in the title differs from the question asked in the body text. Could you please clarify which one you'd like answered? Aug 22 '20 at 20:50
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    @AnnaA.Fitzgerald It was an elegant variation on the title, but I've fixed.
    – Zan700
    Aug 22 '20 at 21:39
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    I was surprised to see your final parenthetical remark referring to names and pronouns, because the impression I got from the rest of the question was that this was about repetition much more generally. Are you interested in asking about all repetitions, or only about names and pronouns? Aug 23 '20 at 7:36
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    Also, I'm not sure there is any 'aside from judging by ear', but maybe someone else will prove me wrong! Aug 23 '20 at 7:36
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    The rule of thumb I was given was that every paragraph, you should use the character name. If you have multiple people of the same pronoun (she/her) in a discussion/being discussed, you need to be scrupulously careful as to who is being discussed. Otherwise it's very colorful and a challenge to eliminate the extras (her black hair VS the long black hair)
    – DWKraus
    Aug 24 '20 at 21:26

I simply don't agree with the translator about repetition in English. Unless it is being done for effect, most words shouldn't be repeated within two sentences of each other and very few should be repeated in the same sentence (the main exception being articles). This is something I have taught to students as well.

Read your work aloud and to find repetitions that shouldn't be there. I spend a significant amount of time finding synonyms for repeated words.

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    I appreciate the answer, but H.W. Fowler in Modern English Usage says, "The first thing to be said is that a dozen sentences are spoilt by ill-advised avoidance of repetition for every one that is spoilt by ill-advised repetition. He also says, "It is the second-rate writers, those intent rather on expressing themselves prettily than on conveying their meaning clearly, and still more those whose notions of style are based on a few misleading rules of thumb, that are chiefly open to the allurements of elegant variation." The rules of thumb may have squashed the subtleties.
    – Zan700
    Aug 23 '20 at 19:57
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    @S.Mitchell I think there's a big difference between avoiding repetition by not mentioning the same concept again, and avoiding repetition using synonyms. Even if the former is desirable, the latter - as per the quote from Fowler - can come across as clumsy. Aug 23 '20 at 22:21

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