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I'm writing a story in English but I'm not a native. I’m a Brazilian Portuguese speaker.

It bothers me how repetitive and ambiguous pronouns can be. In my language we can use the equivalent to ‘this one’ instead of he/she/it etc. It’s less usual, but still sounds natural. But I don’t know how it sounds to a native English speaker. The only examples I found in English were archaic.

Example:

John saw Mario again after three years, and thought that he (Mario, not John) lost a lot of weight.

Does it sound weird if I write instead:

John saw Mario again after three years, and thought that this one lost a lot of weight.

I wonder that something like ‘the guy’ could be used instead of ‘Mario’, but it would not sound good if Mario is a well known character by the reader. Of course I can use Mario again, but it doesn't work well in the sentence that concerns me.

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There is a distinct use of "this one" in English which is a matter of usage rather than grammar. It is used by one person to refer to another person (often, though not always, an inferior), who has done something stupid. Thus:

We were driving along in the rain and this one decided to hit the sunroof switch.

or:

We were all in the living room watching the game when this one decided to put the cat in the microwave.

(This is an idiomatic usage, so it will be far more common in some parts of the English speaking world than others.)

Your example does not quite fit this idiomatic usage pattern, but it is close enough to it that someone accustomed to that usage might assume that you intended to use that idiom and got it wrong. (That was the first thing I thought of when I read it.)

In any case, your formulation just is not common or idiomatic usage in English, so the short answer to your question is, no.

What you could do to introduce variety into your example question is something like this:

John saw Mario again after three years, and thought that his friend had lost a lot of weight.

  • It’s subtle, but I realize now that, once we don’t have an exact equivalent to ‘it’ in Portuguese, we have actually two kinds of ‘this’/‘that’, one of them able to be used in reference to people. While what is literally translated as ‘this one’ can have the same usage you said. I was afraid I was about to unnecessarily ignore some equivalency between the languages, but now that I know it doesn’t apply, I added – as you said – some variety into the phrase in order to fix it. Thank you – Louisr Sep 4 at 10:08
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    Here in Ireland, "your one" is an unknown woman appearing in a story. It's the female equivalent of "your man". Your one was shouting abuse at the driver this morning and we coming in past Heuston station. – TRiG Sep 4 at 10:45
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    Mark, could you add where you're from? Here in southern England, I'd find that usage rather confusing. (Unless the speaker emphasised /this one/ and clearly indicated a person while saying it.) – gidds Sep 4 at 12:02
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    In my experience (US South, native speaker), "and then this one..." is extremely informal and always disparaging. – Deolater Sep 4 at 15:08
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    Having lived in Australia for many years, I'd like to add that for Australians the 'one' in 'this one' is regularly exchanged for an expletive, and can be used either disparagingly, or as a term of endearment. – Arkenstein XII Sep 4 at 20:40
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John saw Mario again after three years, and thought that this one lost a lot of weight.

As Mark says, this example's not idiomatic in English. (Also, it would be "had lost".) However, this version would work much better:

John saw Mario again after three years, and thought, "This one's lost a lot of weight."

(I'd tweak the beginning to something like "John saw Mario again three years later", but that's a separate issue.)

In English, "this" is usually associated with some kind of closeness. If I talk about "this car and that car", "this car" is probably the one that's closer to me. If I'm comparing an episode of a TV show that just screened with one that screened last week, "this episode" will be the recent one and "that episode" will be the one further from me in time. If I talk about "this concept", it means something like "the concept that I was just talking about".

So when John is referring to Mario, "this one" can work - it means "the guy who is in my presence right now". But when it comes from an anonymous narrator, referring to Mario as "this one" wouldn't usually work, because it doesn't make sense for Mario to be close to the narrator.

It's a subtle point, and I'm not sure I've articulated it very well - maybe somebody else can explain this better?

  • The sense of closeness would come from the idea that John was the first cited and Mario the last, so Mario is closer to the word 'this' in the phrase. It goes on the same logic when (in Portuguese) we use 'the first', 'the latter', 'the second one', all less common usages, but valid. But in fact I realized that in Portuguese we have two kinds of ‘this’, so it won’t work in the same way in English after all. Thank you for the revision of the phrases. – Louisr Sep 4 at 10:17
  • @Louisr: I think he meant physical closeness as "this car" is closer to me than "that car" which is in the back of the lot. Not that you don't have a good rule of English down in that pronouns will usually refer to the noun that was just mentioned that is most applicable. If I mention my computer and Maria in the same sentence, and use the pronoun "it" I am referring to my computer, not Maria (as she is a she). – hszmv Sep 4 at 12:52

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