- Affect and effect
- Frequently confused words: affect/effect
- Hear/here and accept/except
- Frequently confused words: here/hear
- There, their, and they're
- Frequently confused words: there/their/they're
- To, two, and too
- Frequently confused words: to/two/too
- Compliment/complement and desert/dessert
- Less versus fewer
- Bare/bear, allowed/aloud, advice/advise, and break/brake
- Frequently confused words: assorted
Less versus fewer
How do you know when to use "less" and "fewer" when describing things?
Want to join the conversation?
- I'm still confused on how to tell the difference between less and fewer. Can someone clarify things a bit please.(13 votes)
- Less can refer to count nouns & mass nouns
Fewer can only refer to count nouns
So, the main thing to know is whether or not something is a count noun - if it's not, you can only use "less"
Count nouns are more specific than mass nouns, and count nouns also refer to things that can be "counted" - you can say that you have one, two, or a hundred of them...
fruit (mass noun)
- She picked less fruit than her grandfather.
grapes (count noun)
- She picked less grapes than her grandfather.
- She picked fewer grapes than her grandfather.
water (mass noun)
- He drank less water than me.
sips of water (count noun)
- He drank less sips of water than me.
- He drank fewer sips of water than me.
money (mass noun)
- They spend less money at the thrift store.
dollars (count noun)
- They spend less dollars at the thrift store.
- They spend fewer dollars at the thrift store.
"Less" must be used with mass nouns. Either word can be used with count nouns, although "fewer" sometimes sounds way better.
Hope this helps!(29 votes)
- Fewer sun and Fewer sand just doesn't sound right, either!(6 votes)
- No, it doesn't. But "how it sounds" is a weak standard.(9 votes)
- Could fewer mean according to its noun that quantity is just a few things less?(6 votes)
- You've got it. The difference is in whether that quantity can be measured or not. For example: Sally has less bread than Nick. Nick has fewer turtles than Sally. "Less" is used for things that you can't count (like bread). "Fewer is for things you CAN count (like turtles).(7 votes)
- At4:54, what's the difference between English and Standard English?(5 votes)
- "Standard' implies one form of English that is commonly held as the measure of all other forms thereof. All English is "English", and the "Standard form" upheld in this course is only local and temporary, but it does offer a pattern by which the other forms can be evaluated.(8 votes)
- honestly, there is not much difference. Its just the way we USE them differently.(5 votes)
- But there is a difference. "Less" is for things that can't be uncounted: "I put less peanut butter on that sandwich." "fewer" is for things that can be counted: "There are fewer COVID-19 sufferers in Taiwan than in the Philippines."(7 votes)
- what is the bone to pick?(5 votes)
- A bone to pick means that you have a problem or a grudge with that person. For example "You ate all the ice cream come fight me! I have a bone to pick with you(3 votes)
- can some one fill me in on what is going on in the first part of the video?(3 votes)
- They are opening the video in a creative way, sort of giving an introduction of the topic of the video. Basically the first minute or so establishes that there's no real rule to using "less" and "fewer," but that they have been used a certain way for a mix of reasons, one being one person's opinion and the way that the English language has changed with society.(3 votes)
- "I ate less food than Nick, and ate less than Julie. They like to spend fewer time outside then I do."(3 votes)
- I tried writing something for 'fewer', but that backfired horribly.(3 votes)
- Is the word "less" replacing "fewer?"
Like who and whom?(2 votes)
- No. this is not the same as the rule that applies to "who and whom". Less and fewer is about count and non-count nouns.(2 votes)
- why can't You use a sentence like "I have 2 fewer pieces of sand than you"? Am I correct?(2 votes)
- Your sentence is perfectly grammatical. It is because you have used the measure word, "pieces" for sand.
Had you used the non-count, "sand" by itself, you'd have to have needed to use "less". I have less sand than you. But, because you're using "pieces", you can use "fewer".(2 votes)
- [Man] Hello Grammarians. Hello Rosie. - [Rosie] Hi David. - [David] So you've called me into the recording booth today. - [Rosie] Yes. - [David] Because you have a bone to pick with me. - [Rosie] Just a little bit, yeah. - [David] So I have always in my usage, I've always drawn a distinction between 'less' and 'fewer'. I wouldn't say I'm one of those sticklers that goes around correcting signs at the grocery store checkout. You know if it says like 15 items or Less. I'm not gonna take out a black Sharpie and say,"No, fewer." But I do think that there is a distinction in usage between the two. But you told me that there is not as much as I would like to believe. Look, like I'm the last person that wants to needlessly subscribe to grammar superstitions, right? - [Rosie] Right. - [David] Our job is to go around with our little needle of truth and pop 'em. - [Rosie] Yes. That's what I'm gonna try to do or I'm gonna try to argue this. - [David] Okay. Dislodge me from my perch. - [Rosie] Alright. I'm gonna make a broad statement to start with and we can kinda dig into it but my argument is that you can use 'less' to mean or to refer to both countable items, count nouns and to larger mass nouns but you can only use 'fewer' to refer to count nouns like, 'five items or fewer' but you couldn't say 'fewer water'. - [David] So you are acknowledging that there is a difference. - [Rosie] Oh definitely! - [David] So okay, so Rosie what are count nouns and mass nouns? - [Rosie] Good question. So, count nouns are essentially nouns that you can count individually as in individual entity. So an example between these two count noun would be 'grains of sand' - [David] Okay. So I can count, not that I'd want to grains of sand individually but I guess what you're saying is I couldn't count - [Rosie] Sand. - [David] Sand. Like, let's say for some reason you and I were having a sand counting contest. Plucking individual grains of sand from the beach with tweezers putting them in a bucket. I could say, "I have fewer grains of sand than you do." - [Rosie] Right. - But I couldn't say, "I have fewer sand." Is that what you're saying? - [Rosie] That is what I'm saying. Fewer just, it just doesn't in Standard English it just doesn't go with these mass nouns. You know, fewer sand. I'm getting fewer sun than I used to. You would say, "I'm getting less sun than I used to" for example if you're talking about being out in the sun. - [David] Sure. Versus hours of sun exposure. - [Rosie] Right. You could get fewer hours of sun exposure but my argument and this is where I think you and I differ is that I believe you could also say "I'm getting less hours of sun exposure." - [David] Hmm! - [Rosie] And the reason that I feel this way - [David] Okay - [Rosie] Is that this trend or this idea that fewer always has to go with the count noun is really just as far as I can figure just a thing that some guy named Robert Baker wrote in this book. - [David] What do you mean "some guy"? - [Rosie] He was, well okay - [David] Just like some dude invented it? - [Rosie] He wasn't some guy, I guess he was at the time he was sort of a front-runner in terms of talking about language and he wrote this book that was called "Reflections on the English Language" in 1770. And what Robert Baker said in the book and this is, I mean, people have looked at this and tried to trace the origins of this 'fewer/less' issue with count nouns and Robert Baker said "This word is most commonly used in speaking of a Number "where I should think 'fewer' would do better. "No fewer than a hundred appears to me not only more elegant "than no less than a hundred, but strictly proper." - [David] He did just kind of decide arbitrarily. - [Rosie] He did. I mean he's really stating his opinion here. He says, "Appears to me not only more elegant "than less than a hundred but strictly proper." Okay so maybe this strictly proper sounds a little intimidating but he's stating an opinion here. - [David] So he's talking about the word 'less'. - [Rosie] He's talking about the word 'less'. - [David] The word 'less' is most commonly used in speaking of a number. And he just thinks, "Ah, I feel like fewer would do better" so he's going on this gut impulse. Which is for the record, fine. - [Rosie] It is fine. - [David] Right? Like there's nothing would you think there's anything ungrammatical about saying, "There is fewer, I get fewer sun." - [Rosie] I guess not. It's just not the way that we speak in Standard English. - [David] It's just style and culture right? - [Rosie] Right. - [David] That dictates the way that we feel about words. - [Rosie] Right. And so I guess that's what I'm getting at is in Standard English these days we see 'less' being used when referring to both count nouns and mass nouns and I think that's fine. - [David] Alright. - [Rosie] Yeah. I don't see any problem with that especially since the only real reasoning that anybody can find to go on is this one persons opinion from 1770. So I think we can say 'less' to refer to countable items - [David] And lest you think that we're replacing one dudes opinion from 1770 with two peoples opinion from the present like I get that that's a legitimate criticism that you can make but what we're trying to say is that this reflects the way that language is commonly used and understood now. - [Rosie] Right. - [David] This isn't just the two of us making an arbitrary rule. Which, by the way Rosie I'm now on your side. I buy into this. You can use 'less' to refer to count nouns and mass nouns but 'fewer' only in refer to count nouns. I get that. Because this actually reflects the way that these words are used in what is called 'The corpus of English' like the body of language that bounces around everyday. - [Rosie] Exactly. And the one exception that I would say comes back to this question of context and style that David and I have been talking about. If you're writing a formal paper you probably wanna use 'fewer' to refer to count nouns because in that context I mean that's still kinda what's on the books as the "right way". - [David] Okay, so this is the more formal option. They're both correct but this is more formal? - [Rosie] Right. I would say so. - [David] Okay. Well cool. Thank you Rosie. - [Rosie] Oh, you're welcome. - [David] I feel like I learned something today. Thank you for disabusing me of this superstition. - [Rosie] Of course. - [David] And thank you Grammarians, you can learn anything. David out. - [Rosie] Rosie out.