A special request from my supervisor today! It’s one of his pet peeves apparently! I know the difference between less and fewer, but I admit that I don’t always necessarily think about it as I’m writing. It’s pretty easy once you learn it, so make sure you read on!
You know when you see a sign at the grocery store checkout that says “10 Items or Less?” Guess what? FAIL. It’s wrong. You use less when you’re talking about things that cannot be specifically counted. For example, “Use less sugar in the tea next time.” Sugar cannot be counted really, so you say less. However, it’s becoming more acceptable to use less when talking about an amount of money, time, or distance, especially in conversation. For example, “I make less than $30 an hour.”
So that grocery store should say “10 Items or Fewer.” Why? Because you can count the items. Fewer is used with countable items. For example, “I want fewer than five apples.” There’s isn’t necessarily a specific number of apples, which is fine. The important thing is that you can count the apples and you can tell if you have five, four, three, two, or one!
It’s becoming less and less common to distinguish between less and fewer, as less is becoming more accepted as the only neccesary term. However, try to remember that you use fewer with countable items and less with measured things, and you’ll be on your way to success! Good luck!