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Grammar Check: Less vs. Fewer

Less is more, but when is fewer correct?

One of the most common errors I correct is the misuse of the words less and fewer. When should you use “less” and when should you use “fewer”?

Use fewer when referring to a number. If you can count the items there are fewer, not less, of them. Example: Bob took off fewer days this year than he did last year.

Use less when referring to something you cannot count. Example: There was less traffic today than there was yesterday.

Explanation:

Count (or quantifiable) nouns versus mass (or singular) nouns

Less and fewer are synonyms. They are both comparative words, and they both mean the opposite of more.

Rule: Use fewer with count nouns and less with mass nouns.

It is easy to remember! Count nouns are simply things that you can count. A mass noun is something you cannot count independently.

Another way to remember: Mass nouns cannot be pluralized. In the above example, we can say “days” but we can’t say “traffics.” Fewer days, less traffic.

The exception: money. Bob earned less than $5,000 last year.

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muskrat March 07, 2013 at 06:48 PM
Intertesting, thanks!
Jen Senft March 16, 2013 at 03:36 PM
Thank you for the feedback!

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