Fewer v. Less

If you’ve ever been in a grocery store, you’ve seen the express line, which generally caters to shoppers with “10 items or less.” This may come as a big shock to you (or not), but 99 percent of grocery stores use improper grammar! The express line should cater to shoppers who have “10 items or fewer.”

What’s the difference? Isn’t the meaning the same? Well, to some extent, yes, in that we understand what is meant either way. Few people make a distinction between the two these days. And in a few more decades, it’s likely that the only people who will care will be editors and linguists. However, if you wish to be grammatically correct (and sound smart), you’ll keep in mind this usage rule (from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary): Less applies to non-countable things (matters of degree, value, or amount) and modifies collective nouns, mass nouns, or nouns denoting an abstract whole. Fewer applies to matters of number (quantity, or countable things) and modifies plural nouns.

Examples:

  • Shoppers can use the express lane if they have 10 items or fewer. (In this case, we use fewer because we are referring to a countable number of items.)
  • My sprained ankle hurt less after I iced the area. (In this case, we use less because we are referring to the degree of pain, a non-countable thing.)

Need help with your writing? Visit kickasseditor.com for editing services.

Advertisements
Published in: on July 7, 2009 at 11:42 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://grammarhints.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/fewer-v-less/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. […] far and away the most popular, receiving 16.5 times as many hits as the next most popular post, fewer v. less. Published […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: