I came across the following sentence:

This is the only type of command that requires us to complete by a certain time - all of the other ones aren't governed by exclusion logic.

I am intrigued by the use of the word "ones" to indicate "a subset" or "a group."

Since the sentence could be rewritten to eliminate the use of "ones," I'm inclined to think that "other(s)" and "ones" are somehow related/redundant:

This is the only type of command that requires us to complete by a certain time - none of the others are governed by exclusion logic.

The use of "ones" seems very informal and colloquial to me - where did it originate?
Is it unique to English, or is there a similar construct in other languages?

  • Thinking about it a bit more, "these ones" seems to be a pluralization of "this one", but is much less desirable to my ear. – mskfisher Nov 29 '10 at 21:01
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    Actually, mulling this over two years later, what's wrong with referring to "the blue ones" or "the hot ones" or any "ones" preceded by an adjective? There's even a movie called The Defiant Ones. It's not really informal, at least not much. I can easily imagine a butler in Downton Abbey asking His Lordship if his preference for jelly-bellies ("jelly beans" in AmE) shaded toward "the sweet ones or the tart ones." – Robusto Aug 29 '12 at 16:23

From: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/one

one O.E. an , from P.Gmc. *ainaz (cf. O.N. einn , Dan. een , O.Fris. an , Du. een , Ger. ein , Goth. ains ), from PIE *oinos (cf. Gk. oinos "ace (on dice)," L. unus "one," O.Pers. aivam , O.C.S. -inu, ino- , Lith. vienas , O.Ir. oin , Breton un "one"). Originally pronounced as it still is in only, and in dial. good 'un, young 'un , etc.; the now-standard pronunciation "wun" began c.14c. in southwest and west England (Tyndale, a Gloucester man, spells it won in his Bible translation), and it began to be general 18c. Use as indefinite pronoun influenced by unrelated Fr. on and L. homo . Slang one-arm bandit "a type of slot machine" is recorded by 1938. One-night stand is 1880 in performance sense; 1963 in sexual sense. One of the boys "ordinary amiable fellow" is from 1893. One-track mind is from 1927.

In French, on means "he" or "it" (I think).

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    In French, on means "one" as in "one does what one can". In practice it can stand in for just about any pronoun ("qu'est-ce qu'on fait ?", literally "what does one do?" instead of "qu'est-ce que nous faisons ?", "what are we doing?"), though this usage is rather informal and sometimes decried by sticklers. – Jon Purdy Nov 29 '10 at 22:17

You have it right: the plural of this one is these ones; of that one, those ones. Some prescriptivists have it that the word ones is somehow incorrect, but I can't really see why, as it comfortably fills a gap that nothing else quite can. Regardless, it is considered informal.

I agree that ones doesn't sound quite as good in a negative sentence—none of the other ones can easily be replaced with none of the others—but in the affirmative or interrogative it's just fine to my ear. Which ones do you want? is equivalent to the ambiguously numbered Which do you want?, but just as which one makes the sentence explicitly singular, which ones makes it explicitly plural. I can't think of a better way to do that.

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    I don't disagree with your point, but it feels better to me to say "This one is better than those," then it is to say "This one is better than those ones." Unless one is speaking of one-dollar bills, that is ... – Robusto Nov 30 '10 at 1:05
  • @Robusto: Yeah, I think it's best in questions. – Jon Purdy Nov 30 '10 at 5:46

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