Saturday, October 23, 2010

Less vs Fewer: Married People Can Be Counted

Marlee writes:
Hi Snarky! My class has to find examples of when the media mixes up less and fewer. Take a look at this big goof on a local Arizona blog.

Excellent work, Marlee! Not only is there a glaring error in the header, but the first sentence also contains a humdinger.

Where does the Phoenix Family Law News Blog go wrong? It uses less to compare countable nouns.

Quick rule:
  • Use fewer when comparing countable nouns. There are fewer days in February than in March. We can count days.
  • Use less when comparing non-countable nouns. There seems to be less stress in our math class this year. Stress can be measured but not counted.
  • Marriage Trends: Fewer People in Arizona Getting Married
  • While there are many people searching for that perfect partner in life, it seems that fewer and fewer people are getting married.


  1. I like you!!! you've delivered your thoughts intelligently

  2. This is only true most of the time. The MEANING of the thought is important and changes this. Sometimes a person only means a count noun in a general way; in that case, "less" is correct. So if I'm thinking about a chunk of something (some amorphous mass), and mean less f it, I say "less." For example, "I'll see you in five minutes or less" is appropriate and correct. You can count minutes, but you MEAN it generally. That's why you say, "Less than a mile" even though a mile (Latin root for a thousand) is 1,000 paces; a pace was two steps (~5.5'). However, if you MEAN it specifically, you should say "fewer." The Wegman's grocery store in Dewitt, NY has "10 items or fewer" over their express line (the % of college educated people there is high).

  3. What about "one"? Should I write "one less" or "one fewer" when referring to things one can count? The former sounds right, but so do many grammar errors when they are used in common speech.
    "My friend's divorce is now final, so there is one less anniversary for me to remember." This sounds right to my ear, but since anniversaries are discrete units that can be counted, ought I to write "fewer"? Or is "one" an exception?

  4. We have almost established more of the concerning objects because for the students its been pretty important to think around all those possible values.

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