Question: “I ran across an article that you had written in the Southside Times about grammar. Grammar was not (and still is not) one of my strong points, but in today’s world I constantly hear people using the term ‘these ones’ instead of just ‘these.’ Is there any way this is correct grammar? It’s not really a major concern in the whole scheme of things, but it just rubs me the wrong way.” (Ed)
Answer: Consider, if you will, a bakery counter full of donuts.
The counter has four types of donuts – chocolate, glazed, raspberry and cream cheese – arranged in groups from left to right. The clerk behind the counter is ready to sell you as many donuts as you would like, and, being a good and decent person, you’re ready to oblige her.
Let’s look at the ways this transaction could occur:
“I want one.” You haven’t provided the clerk with much information. You’re still getting a donut, but it could be any of the four types.
“I want this one.” Now, the clerk knows exactly which type of donut you would like and, in fact, exactly which donut of out that group you would like. “This” acts as a determiner to the pronoun, “one,” signifying an individual item within a group. When a pronoun like “one” is paired with a determiner, it forms a pronominal – or a pronoun phrase, more or less.
“I want five of these ones.” Here, we still have a pronominal. But is it necessary? Does it function any better than “these” – acting as a pronoun – would alone?
If we were to say, “I want five of these,” the clerk would have just as much information as the previous phrase. “These” and “these ones” both serve to indicate a subset of a group of donuts. And while “one” in the pronominal “this one” does double duty by indicating the quantity of donuts desired, it does not in “these ones,” instead acting as an indefinite pronoun.
I was unable to find a hard-and-fast rule prohibiting the use of “these ones.” However, it seems to me a redundant and inelegant-sounding phrase, and that alone should be cause to avoid it. If you do come across a rule about this phrase in your travels, I’d love to read it, though. As for me … I’m suddenly craving donuts.