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Less Than vs. Fewer Than: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on November 22, 2023
"Less than" is used for uncountable quantities or amounts, while "fewer than" is used for countable, discrete items.

Key Differences

"Less than" is correctly used when referring to singular mass nouns or quantities that are not countable, such as time, money, or volume. "Fewer than," on the other hand, is used with plural count nouns, referring to a number of individual items or units.
"Less than" is appropriate for indicating a smaller amount of something that cannot be counted as individual units, like sand or water. "Fewer than" is used when you can count the individual elements, like apples or cars.
In everyday language, you might use "less than" when talking about time ("less than an hour"), while "fewer than" would be used for countable items ("fewer than 20 participants").
A common mistake is using "less than" with countable items (e.g., "less than ten people"), where "fewer than" is grammatically correct.
While these rules generally apply, there are exceptions in common usage, such as with distances, periods of time, or amounts of money, where "less than" is often used even with countable units.

Comparison Chart


Uncountable nouns (mass, volume)
Countable nouns (individual items)


Amounts, quantities not in discrete units
Specific, countable numbers of items


"Less than a gallon of milk"
"Fewer than five books"

Common Errors

Misused with countable items
Misused with uncountable quantities


Time, distance, money (commonly use "less than")
Generally more strict in usage

Less Than and Fewer Than Definitions

Less Than

Signifying a comparison with a lesser amount or degree.
She received less than the required score on the test.

Fewer Than

Used to compare a smaller number of countable things.
Fewer than five of the candidates passed the exam.

Less Than

Used to express a smaller range or degree.
He finished the task in less than an hour.

Fewer Than

Signifying a smaller quantity in number.
He caught fewer than twenty fish on his trip.

Less Than

Conveying a reduction in quantity or degree.
The patient showed less than usual interest in the activities.

Fewer Than

A comparative term for a smaller count of items.
She made fewer than three errors in her report.

Less Than

Indicating a quantity lower than a specified reference.
There was less than half a tank of gas left in the car.

Fewer Than

Not as many as a certain number of countable items.
There were fewer than ten people at the meeting.

Less Than

Smaller in amount, degree, or extent.
The recipe called for less than a teaspoon of salt.

Fewer Than

Indicating a reduction in the number of countable items.
Fewer than half the students attended the lecture.


Can 'less than' be used with numbers?

Yes, with uncountable quantities, like "less than two liters."

Is 'fewer than' appropriate for time?

Generally, no. "Less than" is usually used for time, like "less than two hours."

When should I use 'less than' instead of 'fewer than'?

Use "less than" for singular mass nouns or uncountable amounts.

What does 'less than' mean?

"Less than" refers to a smaller amount or degree, typically used with uncountable nouns.

What does 'fewer than' mean?

"Fewer than" is used to denote a smaller number of countable items.

Is it correct to say 'fewer than 50 percent'?

Yes, if referring to countable items or units.

Can 'fewer than' be used for singular nouns?

No, it's used with plural count nouns.

Can I use 'less than' with countable items?

It's grammatically incorrect; "fewer than" should be used with countable items.

How do I choose between 'less than' and 'fewer than' for distances?

"Less than" is often used for distances, though technically, "fewer than" could be correct in some contexts.

Is it ever acceptable to use 'less than' with plural nouns?

Yes, in cases like time, distance, and collective quantities.

Are these rules the same in British and American English?

Generally yes, though there may be slight variations in usage.

Can 'fewer than' be used with fractions or percentages?

Yes, when referring to countable units.

Can 'less than' and 'fewer than' be used interchangeably in casual speech?

While common in casual speech, it's not grammatically correct.

What's a common mistake with 'less than' and 'fewer than'?

Using "less than" with countable items, where "fewer than" is correct.

Does the choice of 'less than' vs. 'fewer than' change the meaning?

It can subtly change the emphasis from quantity to number.

Is 'less than' or 'fewer than' correct for money?

"Less than" is typically used for amounts of money.

Is it correct to use 'less than' with age?

Yes, like "less than 30 years old."

How important is the distinction in professional or academic writing?

The distinction is more important in formal writing for clarity and correctness.

Are there exceptions to these rules?

Yes, especially with time, distance, and money, where "less than" is commonly used.

Why is 'fewer than' less commonly used?

It may be due to less familiarity and the versatility of 'less than' in various contexts.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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