Fewer vs. Less



Fewer refers to things that are countable.
Examples:
We had fewer people at the fundraiser than we had hoped.
Fewer tornadoes occurred this year than last year.

Generally, less refers to things that are not countable.
Examples:
Sue has less concern for her dog’s safety now that the backyard fence is completed.
Less talking would help my concentration.

However, the expression less than is used in front of a plural noun that denotes a measure of distance, amount, or time.
Examples:
We will go on vacation in less than four weeks.
She owes him less than $30.
We had less than 25 miles to go but ran out of gas.

In informal usage, no less than may be used, for emphasis, with plural nouns, even though fewer would be the formally correct choice.
Example: No less than 300 people showed up for the concert. OR No fewer than 300 people showed up for the concert.

In informal usage, or less may be used in special cases where fewer would be the formally correct choice.
Example: Write a paragraph about an environmental issue in 200 words or less.

 

Pop Quiz
Choose the correct word.

1. I need less/fewer advice and more open-minded questions.
2. We had less/fewer injuries on the team than our coach expected.
3. No fewer/less than eight students flunked the exam.
4. We had fewer than/less than two hours before we had to take the exam.
5. Fewer/Less seats were filled for the concert because of the rain.
6. No fewer/less than 30 people applied for the job.
7. The muffin should cost a dollar or fewer/less.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I need less advice and more open-minded questions.
2. We had fewer injuries on the team than our coach expected.
3. No fewer OR less than eight students flunked the exam.
4. We had less than two hours before we had to take the exam.
5. Fewer seats were filled for the concert because of the rain.
6. No fewer OR less than 30 people applied for the job.
7. The muffin should cost a dollar or less.

Posted on Wednesday, April 18, 2007, at 12:46 am

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26 Comments on Fewer vs. Less

26 responses to “Fewer vs. Less

  1. atique says:

    Hi Jane
    Yes It is
    because if we use fewer, it means we are talking about things which are countable. And if people use the word “Less” It means they are talking about such things, are not countable

  2. Jane says:

    Right!

  3. Josh says:

    So what about “a few less”? I was watching a Hyundai ad that referred to the number of cup holders in the Santa Fe compared to a Land Rover, and Kelsey Grammar’s voice over mentioned “$13,000 less… and a few less cup holders.” Is “few less” a grammatically correct substitute for “fewer”?

  4. Jane says:

    “A few less” is not a correct substitute for “fewer.” However, as we know, advertisers care little about grammar, even when the last name of their spokesperson is an almost match (Kelsey Grammer).

  5. Jane says:

    What is the sentence? If referring to different things, eight would normally be written out and 30 would be in numerical form. If referring to the same thing, then you are right that I should have used numbers or wording for both.

  6. Jane says:

    You will find different opinions on this subject. For example, Chicago Manual of Style advises spelling out whole numbers from zero through one hundred and certain round multiples of those numbers. There are numerous exceptions to the rule. The important thing is to be consistent.

  7. Deem says:

    Got into an argument today with a friend when I said “one less thing to worry about.” She said, I have to use “fewer” because “thing” is countable. I said, you need two or more (i.e., plural form) for “fewer” to be used.

    Who’s right?

  8. Lil says:

    Is it correct to say:

    We educate less than 50% of the children.

    or

    We educate fewer than 50% of the children.

    • We educate less than 50% of the children.

      • Keith says:

        It should be less than fifty percent. It doesn’t matter if that percent is referring to a counting term.

        • We researched this topic further and discovered a response in the Chicago Manual of Style’s online Q&A section which says that “less than X percent” could be added to the list of plural nouns that denote a measure of time, amount, or distance. Perhaps Chicago will add this to the rules in its next edition. We decided to revise our previous response now. Thank you for your comment.

  9. bob says:

    gramatical rules say to spell out one through ten, but to use numbers for 11 up.

    • The Chicago Manual of Style advises spelling out whole numbers from zero through one hundred. The AP Stylebook recommends using figures for numbers greater than nine. The best strategy is to be consistent.

  10. Gayle Lee says:

    What would be the correct way of saying

    “…because Fred has taken a holiday, it means I have one person less/fewer in my team for next week…”

    Need to resolve an argument with a colleague at work!

    • You’d say “one less person” or “one person fewer,” but probably not “one person less.” In addition, the phrase “on my team” might be a better choice than “in my team.”
      “… because Fred has taken a holiday, it means I have one less person on my team for next week …”

  11. susie says:

    numbers lower than ten are spelled out, anything over ten is written in numerical form.

  12. Fred B. says:

    The grammar police have raided my local grocery store. The express line has a sign that says “12 items or fewer.” The Bluebook of Grammar and Punctuation makes exceptions for time, weight, etc., or when it sounds awkward. This is fodder for a newsletter.

  13. Dancer says:

    What about the word investments? Is it “less investments” or fewer investments”?

  14. Rick Stewart says:

    To me the ‘less than __ % of’ rule sounds awkward when applied to countable items, especially when they are people. “Less than 50% of the men in prison for non-violent drug possession are white, although whites use just as much heroin as blacks,” just doesn’t sound as correct as, “Fewer than 50% of the men in prison … .” Do I just need to re-tune my ear?

    • In our article we mention that “the expression less than is used in front of a plural noun that denotes a measure of distance, amount, or time.” The Chicago Manual of Style considers “less than X percent” a plural noun that denotes a measure of distance, amount, or time, even when used referring to people. Not all proper grammar sounds perfect to the ear.

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