Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between ‘Fewer’ and ‘Less’

oxford-dictionary‘Fewer’ vs ‘Less’

People often tend to get confused between ‘fewer’ and ‘less’. There are some fundamental differences between the two. ‘Fewer’ is used along with the nouns that can be counted. You can use it with animals, motors, shoes, pins etc. Here are some examples:

1. You have fewer shoes than I do.

2. There should be fewer clothes on the rack.

3. Danny has fewer notions than everyone else in the class.

4. Fewer of the alumni show each year in the school’s annual day.

5. There are fewer dance performances this year in the dance festival.

‘Less’ is used when the nouns are uncountable. It can be used with currency, pleasure, hail, optimism etc. Some examples include:

1. Hopefully there will be less hail this year.

2. We require less debt and more currency in the US market.

3. I am less techno savvy than Sid is.

4. Spend less time sitting idly.

5. There was less optimism in industry, last year, than this year.

‘Less’ can also be used with adjectives and adverbs. Some examples include:

1. I am less content in my old age.

2. He walks less fast than you.

People use ‘less’ more often than they use ‘fewer’. However, the difference is that ‘less’ should be used if you are talking about a noun that can be counted ‘“ three ships, four digs, etc, and ‘fewer’ should be used when you cannot count the noun, like happiness, optimism etc.

Basically, ‘fewer’ tells about the number, while ‘less’ stresses on quantity. ‘Fewer’ can be used for plural nouns and items that can be counted. If you say ‘few in number’, then it becomes redundant. If you want to say ‘in number’, then ‘few’ should be replaced with limited, rare, scant, or sparse.

In colloquial English, ‘less’ is acceptable, but slowly and surely it will replace ‘fewer’. People who say ‘less amateurs’, instead of ‘fewer amateurs’, are making a mistake. However, this is becoming acceptable nowadays.

Language specialists, on the other hand, adhere strict rule to the difference between less and fewer. For example, if someone talks about fewer apples, then it must be the result of counting those apples. However, if he is talking about less apples, then it will be viewed as a reference to their weight. Since ‘less’ can be used with adverbs, ‘less amateur’ will become ‘less amateurish’.

Summary:

1. ‘Less’ should be used in relation to uncountable nouns, while ‘fewer’ should be used when the noun is countable.

2. ‘Less’ is becoming more acceptable in colloquial English, and will eventually replace ‘fewer’.


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6 Comments

  1. People use ‘less’ more often than they use ‘fewer’. However, the difference is that ‘less’ should be used if you are talking about a noun that can be counted – three ships, four digs, etc, and ‘fewer’ should be used when you cannot count the noun, like happiness, optimism etc.

    The above paragraph is incorrect; it should read “…’fewer’ should be used if you are talking about a noun that can be counted….and ‘less’ should be used when you cannot count the noun…”

  2. Mercedez-Benz is currently a sponsor for the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. They do not understand how to use English Grammar for the number of doors in their latest model car. They say it has “less doors”. As an English tutor for Literacy Volunteers of America, I believe the correct usage is “fewer doors”. I would include the email address for M-B below, but I do not have it. Perhaps you could help to advise them?
    Thanks for listening.
    Jacquie

    • I think you cannot compare the use of ‘less’ in the Mercedes with correct English grammar.

      Certainly the correct term “within a sentence” would be “The car has fewer doors than…” but suppose this is shorthand for “It is like the 5-door version, less two doors.” – This grammatical structure appears to fall foul of rules just enough to make everyone notice the commercial… which is, I think most advertisers would admit, good advertising…

  3. I believe I now understand the difference. However, in the explanation above you have inadvertantly contradicted yourself. You first say fewer is used for counting nouns. Then after the 12 examples you explain less is used for counting nouns. I figured your first explanation of fewer is used for counting nouns is correct because I have been told “10 items or less” is incorrect. I think you may want to edit your matetial. But thank you, it was still helpful

  4. It’s simple. Less stuff, fewer things.

  5. This is utter hogwash. Most languages don’t even have two different words for fewer and less. If the distinction were important, why do the two words have the same antonym — more?

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