Less vs fewer

 In Learn English

I tell you, less vs fewer just seems to be one of those grammar-related mistakes that get under people’s skin!  Go ahead and google it, and you’ll find impassioned grammarians bemoaning the “10 items or less” sign in grocery stores.

Which Word Do You Use When?

less vs fewerLet’s help ease their suffering, and talk about the rules that determine which word, ‘less’ or ‘fewer’, you should use, and when.

There are 2 handy rules you can look for when deciding if it’s ‘less’ or ‘fewer’.

Rule 1:

the ‘countable’ rule.  Ask yourself, is the noun you are referring to in your sentence countable or uncountable?  If it’s countable you use the word ‘fewer’.

 

Apples, oranges…countable.

There are fewer apples on that tree.
The lack of rain in Florida resulted in fewer oranges maturing this season.

Fruit…uncountable.

My local farmer’s market has far less fruit available than the one 2 miles away.

Rule 2:

the ‘singular’ vs ‘plural’ rule.  Is the noun you’re talking about singular?  Then use ‘less’.  Is the noun plural?  Then use ‘fewer’.

Apples, oranges, pillows…all plural, so you’d use ‘fewer’.

Fewer pillows on the sofa would allow for more people on the sofa.

Fruit, cushion, water…all singular, so you’d use ‘less’.

Use less water in your recipe, and the sauce will be thicker.

Try to use BOTH rules to determine whether you should use ‘less’ or ‘fewer’ in your sentence.

*NOTE—some things are exceptions to the ‘countable’ rule.  You use ‘less’ with expressions of time or measurement that use numbers.

They were together less than 6 months.
My house is less than 2 miles from the school.
It took less than 3 hours to arrive; we caught a tailwind!

Try your hand at some of these online quizzes to see if you understand the less and fewer rulesJ

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