Less Than vs Fewer Than
“Less” and “few” are interchanged often. People, out of habit, use many phrases using “few” and “less” which might sound correct, but they could be wrong when the rules are observed. The main difference between less than and fewer than is in the quantity which is being referred to.
If one is referring to a quantity which is countable, then “fewer than” is used. For example,
Come to this lane if you want to check out fewer than 10 items.
Similarly, fewer buses, fewer homes.
English literature class has fewer students than students in the English language class.
“Less than” is used for quantity which cannot be counted. For example,
Apopka has less traffic than Orlando. While cooking on a stove, less smoke is emitted than grilling.
This rule to use “fewer than” for countable things and “less than” for non-countable things is the basic rule which differentiates between the two.
This rule has exceptions, and exceptions also have to be followed while using these terms. The term “less than” is being used more these days in formal language. It is being used with plural nouns which represent time, distance, and amount. For example,
The trekkers have less than two miles to go before they reach the mountain top.
Here, “two miles,” which are countable, are being used with “less than.”
She has less than 30 minutes to finish her report.
Here, “30 minutes,” which are countable, are being used with “less than.”
He earns less than $50,000 annually.
Here, the money, which can be counted, is being used with “less than.”
It has been seen that “less than” and “fewer than” have been used for each other many times, and we cannot exactly stick to one rule but follow the exceptions of the rule too.
1.“Less than” is used for quantities which cannot be counted, for example, “The employment rate in 2009 was less than it was in 2010.” Whereas “fewer than” is used for quantities which can be counted. For example, “Her shopping basket has fewer items than her friend’s shopping basket.”
2.There are exceptions in the above rule. “Less than” is also used with plural nouns which denote, time, amount, and distance. For example, “She has less than five minutes to spare before the bell rings. He has less than five miles to go before it gets dark,” and “He has less than five dollars to spend.”