The Grammarphobia Blog

Is “these ones” legit?

Q: We live in Iowa and we’re bothered when we hear people say “these ones,” as in “Do you want these ones?” or “These ones are for sale.” Is this acceptable English?

A: Let’s begin by looking at the singular version: “this one.”

The main part (or head) of the phrase is “one” (an indefinite pronoun, not the number 1), modified by “this” (a demonstrative adjective). Together they form a noun phrase: “I like this one.”

Logically, the plural form of this noun phrase would be “these ones.” And logically, we can’t see any reason why this would be grammatically incorrect. “Which ones do I like? I like these ones.”

The chief argument against “these ones” is that “these” alone would suffice (“I like these”). But the same objection could be made against the singular form: Instead of “I like this one,” you could simply say “I like this.” So that argument isn’t convincing.

Now, we have to admit that to our ears “these ones” sounds like a childish usage. We never say or write “these ones” (or “those ones”). But our prejudice against it doesn’t make it grammatically incorrect.

The linguist Arnold Zwicky, writing on the Language Log, says that apparently the use of “these ones” is widespread in Britain, where it’s not considered odd or nonstandard at all.

The situation is less clear in our neck of the woods. Is it acceptable in the US or not?

Educated users of the language seem to differ, and your opinion many depend on where you grew up, according to Zwicky.

”It’s possible that in North America these/those ones’ is a variant in the gray area between standard and nonstandard – fully acceptable to educated middle-class speakers in some areas, but not fully acceptable, though not actually stigmatized, to such people in other areas,” he writes.

Like many questions of English usage, this one has a fuzzy answer. We can’t find any evidence that “these ones” is grammatically incorrect. The only reason to discourage it is that many – perhaps most – Americans find it objectionable.

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