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I can't remember when and where I had this discussion, but I remember being corrected when I was speaking by a stranger saying that it is never correct to say give me half of this; instead, the grammatically correct phrase would be give me one half of this. I've never been a pro at where numbers fit in with the English language, so maybe someone here could shed some light on this.

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Phrases such as I ate half the cake are also correct (albeit colloquial), but you must say half of with a pronoun such as it or that. –  Jon Purdy Jan 25 '11 at 4:28
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@Jonathan Leffler: Can you post your comment as an actual answer? Thanks. The comments section is for meta commentary about the question; to ask for clarification, for example. –  Robert Cartaino Jan 25 '11 at 18:36
    
@Roberto: comment converted to an answer...and removed as a comment. I thought Shaun's answer was pretty reasonable; my comment (now answer) wasn't all that different. –  Jonathan Leffler Jan 25 '11 at 18:39
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5 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

It is perfectly acceptable to say "give me half of that". In English, "half" in understood on its own to mean "one of two equal parts of something".

To put it another way:

  • It would make no sense to say "give me no halves of that". You would just say "give me none of that".
  • It would make no sense to say "give me two halves of that". You would just say "give me all of that".

Saying "give me one half of that" is redundant. It's equivalent to saying "give me one of one of those two equal parts of that."

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+1 last sentence nails it nicely –  smirkingman Jan 25 '11 at 8:41
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Just a nitpick: sometimes you might say "two halves" if something is being given out in halves. Say, cakes. If the store is selling half-cakes, you might say "give me two halves" or "give me three halves". I agree that this isn't the general case. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 25 '11 at 18:19
    
I didn't notice the grammatical redundancy in my question. Awesome job. –  Ralph Kruse Jan 26 '11 at 5:25
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If you are discussing arithmetic, it is always correct to stipulate a numerator and a denominator. "Give me half an apple" is fine, but "what is half plus a third?" is incorrect and should be "what is one-half plus one-third?"

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You don't need the 'one' in expressions like 'give me half a cookie'. Where you do need the 'one' is in when units of measurement are involved, like "please give me one half pound of sugar". You can use 'a' instead of 'one', but leaving out any determiner is wrong.

Correct:

Give me one half pound of sugar.
Give me a half pound of sugar.
Give me half a pound of sugar.

Wrong:

*Give me half pound of sugar.
*Give me one half a pound of sugar.
?Give me a half a pound of sugar.

(You do hear the last quite a bit in the U.S., although not in England; this came up in another question here.)

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Comment posted as answer - as requested

In idiomatic usage, you would seldom say 'one half of this'. You might say 'give me one half-pound pack of sugar' but the hyphen shows that it is a different construct. You might say 'give me one third of that' (as opposed to 'two thirds of that'), but with halves, the alternatives are none and all. However, even with thirds, it would be more usual to say 'a third' than 'one third'. So, whoever 'corrected' you was actually misleading you.

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There is no need to say "one half" there. "Give me half of that" is sufficient.

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