Less vs. Fewer

FewerA 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!

Less

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.”

Fewer

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!

Final Thoughts

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!

Posted in Grammar Quick Fix.

3 Comments

    • That’s probably one reason “less” is becoming more popular–it’s difficult to tell how “countable” non-physical items actually are. As such, an indicator of using less now is by seeing if it’s measurable vs. countable. Measurable things generally use “less.”

  1. Personally, I like to think of time and distance as “semi-countable”. They’re not countable in their ideal, idea-type of form, but when approached with units like seconds, minutes, feet, miles, etc.

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