Fewer vs Less

The words fewer and less are commonly confused in English, or rather, less is used while fewer tends to fall by the wayside. You’ll be less confused and make fewer mistakes after reading through this lesson.

Fewer

Fewer is used with countable nouns: people, animals, chairs, shoes.

You know fewer people than I do.

There should be fewer books on the table.

I have fewer ideas than everyone else.

Fewer of us show up each year.

 
Less

Less is used for uncountable, usually abstract nouns: money, happiness, snow, idealism.

I hope less snow falls this year.

We need more money and less debt.

I have less computer savvy than you.

You should spend less of your time complaining.

Less is also used with adjectives and adverbs:

I’m less happy than I used to be.

He runs less quickly than you.

 
The Bottom Line

Less is the more common word, there’s no doubt about it. But many speakers seem to use it all the time, even in the relatively fewer constructions that need fewer. Just remember that if the noun can be preceded by a number (one person, three dogs, six of us, nineteen problems), it should be modified with fewer. Otherwise, less is best.

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3 comments for “Fewer vs Less

  1. Richard
    26 August 2014 at 15:18

    This “rule” is pure bunkum! Not even the character who invented it considered it a rule. It has all the characteristics of a zombie rule — it is simply the opinion of some eighteenth-century writer, it ignores 100s of years of usage, the distinction is meaningless, and the original rule is oversimplified leading to hypercorrection.

    • Bad Cyborg
      23 December 2014 at 17:47

      Sorry, Richard, but the rule is still very much in force. The fact that so many break (break, HECK! are just flat out ignorant of) the rule does not negate it. If one desires to speak or write as a literate individual, then one follows the rule. But then breaking rules never eliminates them. Some of us understand the need for structure and clarity in spoken and written language (and most all other aspects of life as well) while others are simple rebels without a clue.

      • iliketowin
        29 December 2014 at 00:33

        Less is also used with numbers when they are on their own and with expressions of measurement or time

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