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Fewer / Less

Decreasing the amount of something

wrinkles
 

 

Fewer with Count Nouns / Less with Noncount Nouns

FEWER

Fewer is the comparative form of few, and it is used before a count noun to indicate a decreased number of items.

COUNT NOUN

Do you want fewer lines and wrinkles(count N)
                          fewer agrees with coun noun  

Eat fewer sweets.

Drink fewer sodas/soft drinks.

Smoke fewer cigarettes.  

LESS

 Less is the comparative form of little, and it is used before a noncount noun to indicate a decreased number of items.

NONCOUNT NOUN

Do you want less wrinkling? (noncount N)
                     les agrees with coun nonnoun  

Eat less candy.

Drink less beer.

Inhale less tar and nicotine.

 

The use of less in place of fewer is becoming more widespread. Some consider this informal, others do not. 
Read Grammar Notes comments of various grammarians and linguists.

Also see noncount nouns  (lists of items)
And Nouns that are Both Count and Noncount

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparative Form of Few

Fewer than

Man reflecting on what he has

 

 

Fewer than

FEW

Few is a quantifier (determiner) that we use to express a small number of items (count nouns).

COUNT NOUN

In the past, I had a few experiences that didn't turn out well.

As a result, I have a few thoughts on how to live well on less money.

Fortunately, I've had a few opportunities that helped me.

We had a few difficult times to get through.  (hardships)

FEWER

Fewer is the comparative form of few and it expresses a decreased number of items (count nouns).

 

Now, I have fewer bad experiences than before.

I have fewer thoughts than I had in the past about business and money.

Nowadays, there may be fewer opportunities for young people than there was in the past.

Now, we have fewer difficult times than we had during the war.
 

 

Nowadays – these days or years, in the current period of time(decade)
thoughts (n.) – ideas or opinions
turn out well (expression) – go well
a few – a sufficient or satisfactory number; enough
few – an insufficient or unsatisfactory number; not much
Also see   A few / Few

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparative Form of Little

Less than

 

 

 

Less than

LITTLE

Little is a quantifier (determiner) that we used to express a small amount of something  (noncount nouns).

NONCOUNT NOUN

Now I have a little time to relax with my family.

I get a little vacation time to go on a short trip.

My family had little patience with my work schedule.

We had a little difficulty to get through.

LESS

Less is the comparative form of little and it expresses a decreased amount of something  (noncount nouns)

 

I had less time than I do now to hang out with my kids.

In the past, I had less vacation time  than I do now.

I have less patience than they do with my work schedule.

Now, we have fewer difficulty than we had in the past.  

 

hang out (v.) – (informal) spend time, relax
patience (n.) – the ability to accept trouble and other people's annoying behavior without complaining or becoming angry
a little – a sufficient or satisfactory amount; enough
little – an insufficient or unsatisfactory amount; not much

Also see   A little / Little, More / Less than

 

 

 

 

 

 

Degree Modifier

Decreasing the type or quality something

 

 

 

Fewer vs. Less

FEWER + MODIFIER + NOUN

Fewer is used to indicate a decreased number of count items . Fewer modifies the noun.

In the past, we used toxic chemicals in our garden.  Now, we use fewer toxic products.

We used to have a lot of interesting conversations. Now, we have fewer interesting conversations.

Kids used to have a lot of opportunities to find work.
Today's kids have fewer opportunities to work.

The police will carry fewer weapons.

We've had fewer good experiences staying in hotels.

We used to receive a lot of newspapers. Now we receive fewer papers — only two "The Wall Street Journal" and "The Chronicle".

LESS + MODIFIER + NOUN

Less is used to decrease the amount (percentage) or the degree of something. Less modifies the modifier.

We use less toxic products. (a smaller percentage of toxins)

We have less interesting conversations. (a smaller amount of interest)

Today's kids have less appealing opportunities to work. (a smaller amount of appeal, attractiveness)

The police will carry less dangerous weapons.  (causing a smaller amount of damage)

The journalist has had less useful experience¹(s)².   (a smaller amount of usefulness)

We are receiving less paper mail and more e-mail.  (a smaller percentage of paper)  

 

used to + verb – past routine, custom, habit, "in the past"
toxic (adj.) – poisonous, capable of killing or damaging (chemicals)
appealing (adj.) – attractive or interesting
¹experience (noncount noun) – knowledge or skill
²experiences (count noun)–things that happen to you or things you do
See Nouns that are Both Count and Noncount

 

 

 

More or Less

MORE + MODIFIER

We use more or -er  to increase the intensity of a modifier in a comparative statement.  See More / -er than.

ADJECTIVE

In the past, people were more likely / likelier to die of cancer.

Scientists are more optimistic about finding a cure.  (hopeful)

ADVERB

People speak more enthusiastically about their chances of survival.

People live more actively than they did before.

LESS + MODIFIER

We use less to decrease the intensity of a modifier in a comparative statement.

ADJECTIVE

We are less likely to die of cancer than people were fifty years ago.

Scientists are less optimistic about their clinical trials.   

ADVERB

People speak less enthusiastically about their treatment.

People live less actively than they did before.  

more or less (expression) – to a varying degree; approximately, about
likely – will probably happen or is probably true

Related pages: More /-er  Most / -est   Much / Much More, The-Superlatives 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

vegetables

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

*Eat more fruits and vegetables, get less wrinkles.   

It takes lesser time to type it than to say it.

*More people want to pay less taxes (unclear meaning)

FIX

Eat more fruit and vegetables, get fewer wrinkles.

In formal usage, fewer is used before a countable nouns such as wrinkles.  "Fruit" is not generally used in the plural form.

It takes less time to type it than to say it.

Lesser is a word that means the opposite of greater. It is used in certain expressions such as the lesser man, the lesser athlete, the lesser crime

More people want to pay less tax (adj. to a noncount noun)  Use less tax(singular) to indicate a smaller percentage of tax.

More people want to pay fewer taxes. (adj. to a count noun) Use fewer taxes (plural) to indicate a smaller number of taxes (state and federal taxes, income, home, business, or sales taxes.)

More people want to pay less in taxes.  (noun) If using less as a noun use a prepositional phrase after it in taxes. Garner (508.d) 

 

*Yellow highlighted words are examples of incorrect usage.
  Related pages: Count vs noncount nouns  fruit vs fruits  | Much / More 
Solution - lightbulb Pop-Q "Fruits",

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional Grammar and Linguistic Description

 

(Advanced)

 

 

The use of less and fewer is undergoing a process of change.  

Garner writes in Garner's Modern American Usage (2009), "The degree to which less occurs where fewer would be the better word is a matter of some historical dispute.  In 1969, a linguist reported that 'the use of less in discrete countables in very rare' in edited English.  Louise Hanes, "Less and Fewer," 44 Am. Speech 234, 235 (1969).  But earlier that decade another writer nearly called the usage standard American English: "Modern writers and contemporary educated speakers often ignore the distinction between less and fewer, and you will find less frequently used with plural nouns in current magazines, newspapers, and books, and will hear it even more frequently from the lips of educated people.  Such being the case, less cannot realistically or effectively be restricted to singular nouns.' Norman Lewis, Better English 252 (rev. ed. 1961) 

The linguistic hegemony by which less has encroached on fewer's territory is probably now irreversible. What has clinched  this development is something as mundane as the express checkout lines in supermarkets.  They're typically bedecked with signs cautioning, "15 items of less". These signs are ubiquitous in the United States. But the occasional more literate supermarket owner uses a different sign: "15 or fewer items".

Language Change Index: Stage 3 (of 5)  Widespread but not fully accepted (The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage.) — Garner (507)

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (1989) includes a historical comment. "The OED shows that less has been used of countables since the time of King Alfred the Great—he used it that way in one of his own translations from Latin— more than a thousand years ago (in about 888). So essentially less has been used of countables in English for about as long as there has been a written English language.  After about 900 years Robert Baker opined that fewer might be more elegant and proper. Almost every usage writer since Baker has followed Baker's lead, and generations of English teachers have swelled the chorus.  The result seems to be a fairly large number of people who now believe less used of countables to be wrong, though its standardness is easily demonstrated.

In present-day written usage, less is as likely as or more likely than fewer to appear in a few common constructions.  One of the more frequent is the less than construction where less is a pronoun.  The countables in the construction are often distances, sums of money, units of time, and statistical enumerations, which are often thought of as amounts rather than numbers. — Merriam-Webster (593)

Swan, in Practical English Usage" (2005) comments, "Less is the comparative of little (used especially before uncountable nouns). Fewer is the comparative of few (used before plural nouns… Less is quite common before plural nouns as well as uncountables, especially in an informal style.  Some people consider this incorrect: I've got less problems than I used to have. — Swan (320)

 

 

Also see "Scalar term comparison" (Huddleston 13.4.1.1); "Degree determinatives" (Huddleston 5.7.11) 

 

 

Resources 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Four Million Americans Overweight

overweight
 

 

 

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

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Practice 2

Less is More

 

 

 

Read and Improve

You have heard the expression "less is more". It is true of life as well as of design. If you have less things, then you have less stuff to care for. This means you have less clothing to clean and less shoes to polish.  Having less possessions means that it is easier to move around.  You can travel with less bags and your luggage will weigh less. This will cost you less money when flying. When you arrive with your baggage at the house of friends, they will think that you will be staying less days.

However, having less changes of clothes means that you will need to wash more often. Not washing means you will be less appealing. As a result, your hosts will let you stay less days.  They will think of an excuse to un-invite you. You will have one less friend, and you will be thinking of one more place to go. There you have it more or less.

appealing (adj.) – attractive or desirable

host (n.) – a person who invites others as guests and who provides food, etc.

'less (n.) is more' (expression) – simplicity and clarity lead to good design

luggage (n.) – bag, suitcase, baggage

more or less (expression) – approximately, to a varying degree, that's about it

 

 

Formal or informal use?

  1. Select a response formal or informal.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 11-20" button at the bottom, or click the "Check" button to the left  as you go.

 

11.
If you have less things, then you have less stuff to care for.
   

12.
This means you have less clothing to clean and less shoes to polish.
   

13.
Having less possessions means that it is easier to move around.
   

14.
You can travel with less suitcases and your baggage will weigh less.
   

15.
This will cost you less money when flying.
   

16.
When you arrive with your baggage at the house of friends, they will think that you will be staying less days.
   

17.
However, having less changes of clothes means that you will need to wash more often.
   

18.
Not washing means you will be less appealing.
   

19.
As a result, your hosts will let you stay less days. They will think of an excuse to un-invite you.
   

20.
You will have one less friend, and you will be thinking of one more place to go.
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

An Educational Experiment

heavy backpack problem
 

 

Read and Edit

School districts across the country are experimenting with the use of iPads (electronic tablets) in the classroom.  They want to know if using these devices will save their districts money. The cost of issuing each student an iPad over a three-year period may cost them less money than buying class sets of textbooks. Also, the educational material that students download to tablets is less likely to be out of date. Teachers also are able to deliver new readings and assignments to students in lesser time.  Instructors are enthusiastic because students are using educational resources online to enrich their learning experiences. Instructors spend less hours correcting papers and recording grades and more hours facilitating the learning of their students. 

Students feel that they waste less energy and are more productive. "I used to carry about 30 pounds of books in my backpack. Now it's much easier." commented one 8th grade student. Tablets weigh a lot less than textbooks. Consequently, students have less shoulder and back aches. Also, students report that they require less trips to their lockers to pick up and drop off textbooks. In addition to being easier to carry, the iPads increase productivity. Students not only read but also produce work on their e-tablets using online wikis and document apps. They also do group work with selected networking apps. An instructor added, "Students give me less excuses such as 'The dog ate my homework', and more work, each person moving at his or her own pace. This is a win, win situation: less expensive for the district and more engaging for the students."

 

 

 

 

Edit for errors

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.
21.
The cost of issuing each student an iPad over a three-year period may cost them less money than buying class sets of text books.


22.
Also, the educational material that students download is less likely to be out of date.


23.
Teachers also are able to deliver new readings and assignments to students in lesser time.


24.
Instructors spend less hours correcting papers and recording grades and more hours facilitating the learning of their students. 


25.
Students feel that they waste less energy and are more productive.


26.
Tablets weigh a lot less than textbooks.


27.
 Consequently, students have less shoulder and back aches


28.
Also, students report that they require less trips to their lockers to pick up and drop off texts.


29.
Students give me less excuses such as 'The dog ate my homework', and more work, each person moving at his or her own pace


30.
This is a win, win situation: less expensive for the district and more engaging for the students