These Ones vs. Those Ones

By Maeve Maddox

A reader questions the use of the phrase “these ones”:

I was wondering about a manner of speech I have been hearing or reading and that seems not right to my ears: it is “these ones” as in the following:  “If You Liked This Video, You’ll LOVE These Ones…”  Isn’t the phrase complete with just “these”. I keep hearing or seeing this construction and it sounds really bad to my ear; is it just me?

The construction is not new, although it seems to be more popular now than in the past. The Ngram Viewer shows the phrase “these ones” in moderate use from 1800 to the 1960s, when it begins a precipitate rise on the graph.

Like the reader, I find “these ones”—and “those ones”—jarring. If I found either in a paper given me to correct, I would cross out ones in an instant.

However, I can’t find a specific grammatical rule against it.

Paul Brians (Common Errors In English Usage) proscribes it:

By itself, there’s nothing wrong with the word “ones” as a plural: “surrounded by her loved ones.” However, “this one” should not be pluralized to “these ones.” Just say “these.” The same pattern applies to “those.”

None of my other style guides reference the usage, and numerous online discussions defend it.

An article at the Visual Thesaurus cites statistics from The British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) to show that British speakers say “these ones” five and a half times more often than speakers of American English.

Nevertheless, in American usage, “these ones” is regarded as dialect and not standard usage.

The problem is not that ones is being used as a plural or that these governs ones. For example, the following phrases are standard:

I want the red ones.

You always take the best ones.

You take these small ones, and I’ll take those big ones.

So why does “these small ones” pass with speakers who would not accept “these ones”?

The reason may lie with the proximity of these to ones. With “these red ones,” the presence of the adjective red signals the brain that these is an adjective. When no other adjective intervenes between these and ones, the listener interprets these as a pronoun, in which case, ones is redundant.

Because they are jarring to many speakers, the constructions “these ones” and “those ones” are best avoided in formal contexts, particularly in writing.

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