I'm confused because I've seen both mentioned in dictionaries.

Example sentence (context: writing a story):

On (the) one hand, I want to wrap up everything perfectly. On the other hand, I want to leave some ambiguity to the reader.

What's the correct/conventional choice? Maybe this is an American/British English issue?

  • I'm not a native speaker, I've never heard of "on the one hand.”, it's usually "On one hand and on the other hand" – Lynob Mar 3 '19 at 12:23
  • @Lynob I suggest reading books written by native speakers of English. – user3395 Mar 3 '19 at 15:32
  • It appears that there are native speakers who swear by each version, and are amazed that anyone could think the other is right. Make of that what you will. – SamBC Mar 3 '19 at 16:13
  • Note that non-native speakers may be mapping their own languages' expressions to English. For example, in Portuguese we use "por um lado" and "por outro lado", which would map better to "on one hand" (although, by extension, the second part would then be "on another hand", which I've never seen). I was surprised when I first saw the "the"; I had always used the the-less version, so adding the "the" felt unnatural — but I don't know if that was due to exposure to native speakers using the the-less version, or due to my bias from Portuguese. – waldyrious Jun 4 at 16:41

Either is fine.

I'm not aware of any regional differences in usage.

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    As an American, I have never heard of "On the one hand" and upon seeing that, I thought it was a mistake! – firedraco Mar 3 '19 at 4:25

"On the one hand" is clearly a figure of speech.

On the other hand, "on one hand" can be a literal reference to a person's hand.

As a native British English speaker, I would always use "on the one hand … on the other hand" in the OP's context. There is no logic in omitting the first "the" and including the second, but nobody ever says "on other hand" in this idiom (or anywhere else), so use "the" twice.

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  • On the other hand, that's literally how you'd say it outside of the context of idioms (quite literally: you have one hand, and then you have the other hand) and as a native British English speaker that's how I say the idiom as well. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 2 '19 at 23:35
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit I guess native speakers of British English don't require citations?? Of course, a the is needed. In any English, when using the idiom: on the one hand|||on the other [hand]. – Lambie Mar 3 '19 at 0:05
  • @Lambie What's with the "of course"? There is nothing obvious about this, not least because the idiom as written is barely even grammatical. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 3 '19 at 0:18
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit You came to my answer and said: citation needed. Then, you come here and start in with the native British speaker business. That is completely irrelevant. This is just English.It gets tiring to have to repeat all the time that many things are exactly the same regardless of the variety of English, excluding Indian English. And finally, it's not two things. The full idiom requires one to use both in contrast: on the one hand [blah blah blah] and on the other [blah blah blah]. On the hand is irrelevant. – Lambie Mar 3 '19 at 0:41
  • @Lambie Calm down. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 3 '19 at 0:41

The idiom in English, regardless of variety, is:

  • On the one hand ||| on the other [hand].

The second hand is optional and this has nothing whatsoever to do with British versus American English at all.

All the dictionaries agree.

Collins Dictionary

Cambridge Dictionary

Merriam Webster

On hand: We have no merchandise on hand.

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  • [citation needed] – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 2 '19 at 23:36
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Others don't need citations??? – Lambie Mar 2 '19 at 23:54
  • They would all be better off with citations. However, your answer in particular makes a very bold claim. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 3 '19 at 0:18
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    idioms.thefreedictionary.com/on+one+hand ← this dictionary renders the idiom as on (the) one hand, admitting of both on one hand and on the one hand. I agree there's no real difference as far as the two major dialect families (AmE and BrE) are concerned (and the GloWbE corpus appears to confirm that). – user3395 Mar 3 '19 at 0:33
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    How about the OED? "on (the) one hand, on the other hand, are used (besides the physical sense 4) to indicate two contrasted sides of a subject, circumstances, considerations, points of view, etc." – user3395 Mar 3 '19 at 0:42

In most contexts, when contrasting "one" with "the other", the article is not used before "one".

I would class On the one hand and on the one side as idioms.

In the NoW Corpus "On the one hand" has 28822 hits, and "On the one side" 1657, against 2504 examples of "On the one [any other noun]" - (349 of these are "on the one show", and nearly all of these are "On The One Show", so they don't count).

"On one hand", without "the" has 18297 hits - only about 2/3 as many.

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  • books.google.com/ngrams/… paints a different picture, I'd say. A cursory glance at the first page of the results for the latter query in the NoW corpus reveals at least 25 out of 100 non-anglophone sources (India, Pakistan, African countries); having said that, there are regardless an appreciable number of anglophone writers using the phrase. For comparison, there's around a thousand hits in NoW for on other hand, almost without exception produced by non-native speakers/writers of English. – user3395 Mar 2 '19 at 23:02
  • @Lambie I'm sorry, I'm at a loss as to what taking a cap might mean. I prefer anglophone when talking about countries and nations in general, and English-speaking when talking about people, but I used anglophone because I'd already used non-anglophone. – user3395 Mar 3 '19 at 0:19
  • @userr2684291 caps means capital letters. In any case, it's Anglophone. – Lambie Mar 3 '19 at 0:33
  • @Lambie Ah, I see. In that case you're mistaken – the capitalization is optional, and most dictionaries agree with my choice (the ODE, LDOCE, Cambridge, etc.). – user3395 Mar 3 '19 at 0:40
  • @userr2684291 Try Francophone; Lusophone; Hispanophone. In that sense, I spell it Anglophone. – Lambie Mar 3 '19 at 0:50

It’s an idiom. Well, actually two of them.

“On the other hand” is often used to preface counterarguments to one’s thought process.

By extension, “On the one hand ... on the other hand ...” is used when one has two conflicting ideas and wishes to clarify them aloud. Example:

On the one hand, I really enjoy pie, but on the other hand, I’m supposed to be on a diet.

Both of these expressions use each hand to represent an opinion, as if weighing the pros and cons of each choice with the hands as the scale.

(Source: I’m a native AmE speaker.)

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