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What sort of thing?

I was interested in the following sentence which appeared in an article titled “Colorless, Tasteless but Not Dangerous" by Dwight Garner in The New York Times (November 15, 2010).

People who do gravitate toward these sort of things, he warns, sotto voce, might be “the wrong kind of white person.”

Can someone clarify if the fragment "these sort of things" is ungrammatical, as I think it is?

I would reword "sort" with "sorts", but I'm not sure on this correction because the phrase "these sort of things" occurs on many occasions on The New York Times, it frequently occurs in others newspapers and, more generally, it has 2,670,000 hits on Google Search. So I am wondering if it is in common usage, albeit it isn't the highest register.

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marked as duplicate by Matt E. Эллен, waiwai933 Jun 8 '12 at 5:21

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

@MattЭллен Thank you for the quick feedback. –  Elberich Schneider Jun 7 '12 at 20:34
Except that it's not an exact duplicate. This question deals with "these kind of X", with a plural determinant and a singular word from kind/type/sort, and those questions deal with "this kind" or "these kinds". –  Peter Shor Jun 8 '12 at 15:55
Thank you @PeterShor. You have perfectly classified the question. Fortunately, Adam had posted his answer before that the question was being closed. –  Elberich Schneider Jun 8 '12 at 16:16

2 Answers 2

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the grammar norms suggest that the correct usage would be sorts. However, after looking into the issue more, I was not so convinced. http://www.phras.in had a high instance rate for "These sort of things..." and even Swan's Practical English Usage had an interesting passage about sort of:

When we are talking about one sort of thing, we can use sort of, kind of or type of followed by a singular noun.

This sort of car is enormously expensive to run.

Plural demonstratives (these and those) can also be used.

These sort of cars are enormously expensive to run. Do you smoke those kind of cigarettes?

This structure is often felt to be incorrect, and is usually avoided in a formal style. This can be done by using a singular noun (see above), by using plural sorts/ kinds/ types, or by using the structure ... of this/that sort/kind/type.

This sort of car is ... These kinds of car(s) are. . . Cars of that type are ...

Given this, I would say that at least according to Swan and the current usage on the internet at least, both are correct.

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+1 Great and well documented answer. Congrats. –  Elberich Schneider Jun 7 '12 at 21:02

As you suspected, the statement is incorrect. These sorts of things is correct, because these is used to refer to plural nouns. This sort of thing is also correct; it is singular. However, These sort of thing has these being used to refer to the singular sort, and so it is wrong.

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When you get 2.5 million hits on Google, I would posit that brandishing a particular usage as "incorrect" is overly simplistic. –  Neil Coffey Jun 8 '12 at 1:21
@Neil Coffrey: Slang is commonly accepted as part of the language, but it's still "incorrect" in a grammatical sense. If a grammar is a set of rules it really gets to be a pain if you need to incorporate every slang phrase as an exception to the rule! –  M. Dudley Jun 8 '12 at 1:26
I'm still confused: why don't you take the 2.5 million hits as a possible indication that the usage may not actually be considered "incorrect" (and may not actually be considered "slang") by many writers? Or another way to see things: what actual data/survey of writers etc are you basing your answer on? –  Neil Coffey Jun 8 '12 at 1:29
It isn't incorrect because it violates a grammatical rule, as exceptions to those are common. Its incorrect because it still sounds awkward to the modern ear. If it stops sounding awkward and wrong, then it stops being awkward and wrong. –  Lawton Jun 8 '12 at 13:53
Except that it's still in use in various regions (mostly in the U.K., I believe) and to people from those regions it sounds perfectly natural. –  Peter Shor Jun 8 '12 at 15:53

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