Less Than vs. Fewer Than: What's the Difference?
"Less than" is used for uncountable quantities or amounts, while "fewer than" is used for countable, discrete items.
"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.
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"
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
Signifying a comparison with a lesser amount or degree.
She received less than the required score on the test.
Used to compare a smaller number of countable things.
Fewer than five of the candidates passed the exam.
Used to express a smaller range or degree.
He finished the task in less than an hour.
Signifying a smaller quantity in number.
He caught fewer than twenty fish on his trip.
Conveying a reduction in quantity or degree.
The patient showed less than usual interest in the activities.
A comparative term for a smaller count of items.
She made fewer than three errors in her report.
Indicating a quantity lower than a specified reference.
There was less than half a tank of gas left in the car.
Not as many as a certain number of countable items.
There were fewer than ten people at the meeting.
Smaller in amount, degree, or extent.
The recipe called for less than a teaspoon of salt.
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.
Written bySawaira Riaz
Sawaira is a dedicated content editor at difference.wiki, where she meticulously refines articles to ensure clarity and accuracy. With a keen eye for detail, she upholds the site's commitment to delivering insightful and precise content.
Edited bySumera Saeed
Sumera is an experienced content writer and editor with a niche in comparative analysis. At Diffeence Wiki, she crafts clear and unbiased comparisons to guide readers in making informed decisions. With a dedication to thorough research and quality, Sumera's work stands out in the digital realm. Off the clock, she enjoys reading and exploring diverse cultures.