Less vs. Fewer: What's the Difference?
"Less" refers to a smaller amount of uncountable nouns, while "Fewer" is used for countable nouns.
The English language often challenges speakers with its nuances, and the distinction between "Less" and "Fewer" is one such subtlety. "Less" is generally used when referring to quantities that are not easily counted or are intangible. For example, you might have less time, less money, or less energy.
On the other hand, "Fewer" is reserved for items that can be counted individually. Thus, one might have fewer apples, fewer cars, or fewer days. It's a way to quantify discrete items, ensuring that listeners or readers grasp the number of individual units being referred to.
While both "Less" and "Fewer" indicate a reduction in quantity, their application diverges based on the nature of the noun they modify. Mistakes in their usage often arise from this distinction, sometimes leading to confusion or unclear expressions.
Modern colloquial usage, especially in informal contexts, has seen some blending of "Less" and "Fewer". You might hear someone say "I have less books than you", even though the correct form is "I have fewer books than you". While purists might frown upon such usage, language is ever-evolving.
To simplify, think of "Less" as addressing magnitude or degree and "Fewer" as addressing individual countable units. Mastery of their appropriate usage can enhance clarity and precision in communication.
Type of Noun
Less people (incorrect)
Fewer time (incorrect)
"Less than" (used with numbers or quantities)
"Fewer than" (used with countable items)
Old English "lǣs" meaning "smaller"
Old English "fēawer" meaning "fewer"
Less and Fewer Definitions
Not as much.
She earns less than her colleague.
Not as many.
Fewer students passed the exam.
Used to form the comparative of some adjectives and adverbs.
Less expensive options are available.
A reduced number of countable items.
There were fewer people at the event this year.
Indicating a lack or absence of something.
The results were less than satisfactory.
A smaller number.
We need to make fewer errors.
Not as great in amount or quantity
Had less time to spend with the family.
The comparative form of "few".
She has fewer books than he does.
Lower in importance, esteem, or rank
No less a person than the ambassador.
Used to emphasize a small number of something.
Fewer than ten tickets were sold.
Consisting of a smaller number.
Amounting to or consisting of a small number
One of my few bad habits. See Usage Note at less.
With the deduction of; minus
Five less two is three.
Being more than one but indefinitely small in number
Bowled a few strings.
To a smaller extent, degree, or frequency
An indefinitely small number of persons or things
A few of the books have torn jackets.
A smaller amount
She received less than she asked for.
An exclusive or limited number
The discerning few.
The fortunate few.
Something not as important as something else
People have been punished for less.
Inflection of few; a smaller number.
Fewer women wear hats these days.
There are fewer tigers than there were a hundred years ago.
Comparative of little
I slept even less last night than I did the night before.
I like him less each time I see him.
(comparative of `few' used with count nouns) quantifier meaning a smaller number of;
Fewer birds came this year
The birds are fewer this year
Fewer trains were late
Used for constructing syntactic diminutive comparatives of adjectives and adverbs.
Randal is less welcome than Rachel but as her spouse we should invite them both.
This gadget is less useful than I expected.
I'm not any less happy for being on my own.
To a smaller extent or degree.
The grammar book was less than (that is, not at all) helpful.
That this is a positive one makes it no less a stereotype, and therefore unacceptable.
(Now chiefly of numbers or dimensions) little; of inferior size, degree or extent; smaller, lesser.
A smaller amount of; not as much.
No less than eight pints of beer.
I have less tea than coffee.
You have even less sense than an inanimate object.
Fewer; a smaller number of.
There are less people here now.
Now there are three less green bottles hanging on the wall.
Minus; not including
It should then tax all of that as personal income, less the proportion of the car's annual mileage demonstrably clocked up on company business.
(archaic) To make less; to lessen.
(archaic) Lesser; smaller.
A smaller amount or quantity.
Less is better.
I have less to do today than yesterday.
Smaller; not so large or great; not so much; shorter; inferior; as, a less quantity or number; a horse of less size or value; in less time than before.
Thus in less [time] than a hundred years from the coming of Augustine, all England became Christian.
Not so much; in a smaller or lower degree; as, less bright or loud; less beautiful.
A smaller portion or quantity.
The children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less.
The inferior, younger, or smaller.
The less is blessed of the better.
To make less; to lessen.
(comparative of `little' usually used with mass nouns) a quantifier meaning not as great in amount or degree;
Of less importance
Less time to spend with the family
A shower uses less water
Less than three years old
(usually preceded by `no') lower in quality;
No less than perfect
(usually preceded by `no') lower in esteem;
No less a person than the king himself
(nonstandard in some uses but often idiomatic with measure phrases) fewer;
Less than three weeks
No less than 50 people attended
In 25 words or less
Used to form the comparative of some adjectives and adverbs;
Comparative of little;
She walks less than she should
He works less these days
Use "Fewer" for countable nouns, e.g., "fewer apples."
Is "I have less than five apples" correct?
No, it should be "I have fewer than five apples."
Why do some stores say "10 items or less"?
It's a colloquialism, but grammatically, it should be "10 items or fewer."
When should I use "Less"?
Use "Less" for uncountable nouns or quantities, e.g., "less water."
Can I use "Less" with numbers?
Only when referring to a measurement or quantity, like "less than 50%."
Can "Fewer" be used for singular nouns?
No, "Fewer" typically modifies plural countable nouns.
Why do we say "less time" but "fewer minutes"?
"Time" is uncountable, but "minutes" are countable.
Is "fewer money" correct?
No, use "less money."
Is "Fewer" always followed by a plural noun?
Yes, e.g., "fewer books," "fewer days."
Can I say "Less people attended"?
No, it should be "Fewer people attended."
Can I say "I've less reasons to stay"?
No, it should be "I've fewer reasons to stay."
Can "fewer" start a sentence?
Yes, e.g., "Fewer than 20 students passed."
How about "less eggs"?
Incorrect. Use "fewer eggs."
Can I say "I need fewer sleep"?
No, it should be "I need less sleep."
Is "one less problem" correct?
Yes, "less" can be used with singular nouns when denoting a reduction in quantity.
Why is "less" used with quantities like "sugar"?
Because quantities or amounts that aren't individually counted use "less."
Are there exceptions to these rules?
Colloquially, some exceptions exist, but for standard English, stick to the rules.
Is it "less" or "fewer" for distances?
Use "less," as in "less than five miles."
What about "less days"?
It's incorrect; use "fewer days."
Why do some people confuse "less" and "fewer"?
It's a common mistake due to overlapping colloquial usage.
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