Posted by: episystechpubs | May 14, 2014

Editor’s Corner: Fewer and Less

Hello, good morning, and howdy-do to you!

Today is going to be a flash-back Wednesday, to cover something I’ve discussed before: the misuse of the words fewer and less. I’m not sure why it irks me so much—maybe because it is so prevalent in the media and our everyday life. Here are a few reminders for you if you are confused by this dynamic duo.

Fewer

Fewer is used with count nouns. Count nouns are, well, things you can count. For example, dogs, butterflies, beach balls, waves, and trains are count nouns.

· I have 10 packages of Peeps®. I’m going to go into the line for “12 Items or Fewer.” (Yes! Fewer! You can count the number of grocery items you have. Since items are countable, we should use the word fewer.)

· Fewer than 65 people showed up to the Measlepalooza vaccination event. (People can be counted, so we use the word fewer.)

Less

Less is used with non-count (or “mass”) nouns. Non-count nouns are—yes, you’ve got it—things you can’t count. For example, wood, oxygen, water, sunshine, and happiness are non-count nouns.

· Around 1:00 p.m., there is less shade on this side of the building. (Shade is not something you can count; therefore, we use the word less to quantify it.)

· After Jim performed six cannon balls, there was less water in the pool. (While you can measure water in cups or liters, water itself is not countable and is used with the word less. The same applies to milk and other liquids. You can have a glass of milk, but once you spill it, there is less milk in your glass than you started with. Glass is a countable noun; milk is a non-count noun.)

Exceptions

God bless America! Of course there are exceptions to the rule; this is English. These exceptions include phrases about time, money, and distance.

· It will take you less than ten minutes to get to my house.

· We paid less than $10 for a mule ride to the bottom of the valley.

· “Less than two miles until we reach Rabbit Ridge,” said Mr. Pendlebottom.

You will be fairly safe if you keep with the general rule of using fewer with things you can count, and less with things you can’t count. Memorize the time, space, and money exceptions, and you’ll be golden.

The best punishment ever!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory


Responses

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