English English language Etymology Expression Grammar Linguistics Phrase origin Usage

These ones and those ones

Q: “These ones” is never OK. Not here in the US, nor in my native UK. There is no “sometimes.” It’s simply wrong. The “ones” element is redundant. It’s “these” or “those” (for plurals), and “this” or “that” for singular items.

A: We assume your remarks were inspired by our post in 2010 about whether the phrase “these ones” is ever legitimate.

As we said then, we don’t like this usage. But we could find no authoritative evidence against it, and on the contrary there was reliable evidence in its favor.

In the earlier post, we note that the linguist Arnold Zwicky says the use of “these ones” and “those ones” apparently isn’t considered odd or nonstandard in Britain.

Zwicky cites the linguist Nicholas Widdows, who reports finding examples in the British National Corpus of “these” and “these ones” used in different senses. Here’s how Widdows explains the difference:

“Faced with an array of jelly babies I might point to a red one and say, ‘I like these ones.’  The fused head [plain these] could be misinterpreted as referring to all jelly babies; the ‘ones’ says more clearly ‘this type.’ ”

In the US, Zwicky writes on the Language Log, educated people seem to differ about the usage, and their opinions may depend on where they grew up.

”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.

The fact that we dislike a usage doesn’t make it incorrect. Nor does the fact that some online language junkies claim it’s wrong, without offering any evidence to support their opinions.

You argue that “ones” is redundant in “these ones,” but do you really find “one” redundant in the phrases “this one” and “that one” for the same reason?

And what about if we add a modifier to “these ones” or “those ones”? Would you object to “these heavy ones,” “those black ones,” and so on?

The Cambridge History of the English Language indicates that “ones” here is an anaphoric pronoun—a pronoun that refers back to another word or phrase. In this case the pronoun is preceded by a determiner, a modifier like “these” or “those.”

Cambridge says “those ones” first showed up in the 19th century, and “these ones” in the 20th. However, we’ve found many formal and informal examples of “those ones” going back to the 1600s, and of “these ones” dating from the 1700s.

Here’s an example of “those ones” from Greenwich Park, a 1691 comedy by the English actor and playwright William Mountfort:

Reveler: “Madam, Men may divert themselves with several Women, but only one can make ’em truly happy.”

Dorinda. “And how many of those ones have you said this to?”

Reveler: “As I never was really in Love till now, I never had occasion for the Expression before.”

Here’s a more formal example from Annals of Commerce, Manufactures, Fisheries, and Navigation (1805), by David Macpherson and Adam Anderson:

“The mercantile Venetian and Genoese galleys, which formerly resorted to England, were very probably of a more solid structure than those ones which are only fit for summer expeditions within the Mediterranean.”

Another example, from The British Cyclopedia (1836), edited by Charles F. Partington, says that only in Europe and Asia have falcons been trained to help humans “and therefore those ones of which specimens are obtained from remote countries are birds of little or no interest, except to mere collectors.”

And in Cobbett’s Parliamentary History of England (Vol. 2, 1807), William Cobbett and Thomas Curson Hansard write about 17th-century reforms in Britain that eased the burdens of taxation:

“The compulsion of the subject to receive the order of Knighthood against his will, paying of fines for not receiving it, and, the vexatious proceedings thereupon for levying of those ones, are, by other beneficial laws, reformed and prevented.”

As for “these ones,” here’s an example from An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (1766), by John Brown:

“Our Mediator Christ being so excellent a person, his death was so full a price, and so satisfactory unto justice, for all these ones for which it was offered up, that it needeth not to be repeated, but once for all this sacrifice was offered: He died once.

And here’s an example from “The Foreigner,” a story published in the June 1895 issue of Blackwood’s Magazine:

“It is not the colour only. It is that the whole room has neither expression nor character about it. You must surely have noticed that our English drawing-rooms were very different from these ones.”

Modern scholars, too, have used this construction. Here’s a recent example from Blooming English, a 2012 collection of observations by the British linguist Kate Burridge:

“These were just some of the nominees for the annual Doublespeak Awards—and these ones didn’t even win a prize.”

This modern example is from Emerging English Modals, a 2000 monograph on English auxiliaries by the linguist Manfred G. Krug: “Like previous maps, these ones too have to be taken with a good deal of caution.”

If you don’t trust the writing of linguists, here’s an example from The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature (Vol. 3, 2012), edited by David Hopkins and Charles Martindale:

“The effect produced by the epigrams in Rowe’s Lucan is indeed often one of dignity, but this can make them rather un-Lucanian. Take these ones, for instance, about the panic that grips Rome as Caesar approaches the city at the end of Book I.”

(The work is a study of how literary texts from the classical world were received by English writers from the Middle Ages to the present time.)

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