‘On the one hand’ vs. ‘on one hand’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: Did you know that “iron” is pronounced as “eye-rn”, not “I Ron”? Read my list of the most common pronunci­ation mistakes in English (PDF version).

Actually, both “on the one hand” and “on one hand” are considered correct, but “on the one hand” is preferred by many dictionaries (and most speakers) while “on one hand” is listed as an alternative form (and some speakers consider it unnatural):

On the one hand … (correct; preferred by most speakers and dictionaries)
On one hand … (correct but considered unnatural by some)

However, intuitively, the first “the” seems illogical, because you are referring to one of your hands without specifying which one. You wouldn’t say, for example,

“I wore a glove on the one hand and nothing on the other.”

unless you were waving one of your hands while saying so, and you wanted to underline the fact that this had been the hand with a glove.

I’ve read an explanation that the first “the” originates really in gesticulation using one hand while saying the phrase (i.e. you would be looking at your hand and saying “on the one hand …”). Whether this is really true, we may never know.

Note: This article was based on my book about the most common mistakes in English. There is also a PDF version – why don’t you check it out?

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