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 expressions or less and less than are used for specific measurements of money, distance, time, or weight.
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.
To avoid a fee, your suitcase must weigh 23 kilograms or less.
It should take five minutes or less to fill out this evaluation.

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 [formally correct] OR less [informal] 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 [formally correct] OR less [informal] than 30 people applied for the job.

7. The muffin should cost a dollar or less.

Posted on Tuesday, August 27, 2019, at 11:00 pm

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4 Comments on Fewer vs. Less

4 responses to “Fewer vs. Less

  1. William says:

    Who knew there were these exceptions when using less. It took me a while but I’ve got it well in hand now. Each week I’m making an improvement. Hooyah!

  2. Carl says:

    Item 4 should indeed use “fewer,” but the word placement threw me.

    I’d have preferred “had one slice fewer.”

    I’m not even sure why.

    • Carl is referring to our “Fewer vs. Less” bonus quiz question in which the correct answer was “Rafi counted 20 slices of pie, but I counted one fewer slice than that.” Writing “… but I counted one slice fewer than that” would also be correct.

  3. Kristine Anderson says:

    Thank you for this. It drives me nuts when writers get this wrong! Will I have fewer nutty days now?

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