Less vs. Fewer: How to Use Fewer vs Less Correctly

If you’re an English learner, you may have come across the terms “less” and “fewer” and wondered what the difference is. While they may seem interchangeable, there is actually a subtle distinction between the two that can affect the meaning of your sentence. In this article, we will explore the difference between “less” and “fewer” and provide examples to help you understand how to use them correctly.

Less vs. Fewer

Fewer and less are commonly confused words in English, or rather, less is used while fewer tends to fall by the wayside.

Less vs. Fewer: How to Use Fewer vs Less Correctly

When to Use Less

Less is used when talking about things that are uncountable or have no plural. It is compatible with collective nouns, uncountable nouns, and volumes.

  • The moon yields less light than the sun.
  • We must try to spend less money.
  • Many women earn less than their male colleagues.

When to Use Fewer

Fewer is used when talking about things or people in the plural. It is used countable nouns and individual items.

  • She needs fewer clothes this month.
  • Women commit fewer crimes than men.
  • I’ve got fewer tasks than I used to have.

Difference Between Less and Fewer

“Fewer” should be used when referring to things that can be counted. For example, “I have fewer apples than you.” On the other hand, “less” should be used when referring to things that cannot be counted. For example, “I have less sugar than you.”

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It’s important to note that there are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, it is acceptable to use “less” when referring to countable items if the quantity is expressed as a bulk amount. For example, “I have less than 10 dollars in my wallet.”

Another common mistake is using “less” with plural nouns. For example, “There are less cars in the parking lot.” This is incorrect, as “cars” is a countable noun and should be paired with “fewer” instead.

To summarize, “fewer” should be used with countable nouns, while “less” should be used with uncountable nouns. Remembering this rule will help you use these words correctly and avoid common mistakes.

Rules for Using Less and Fewer

When it comes to using “less” and “fewer” in English, there are a few rules to keep in mind. Here are the most important ones:

Rule 1: Countable vs Uncountable

The main difference between “less” and “fewer” is that “less” is used for uncountable nouns, while “fewer” is used for countable nouns. For example, you would say “less sugar” but “fewer cookies”. This rule applies to most nouns, but there are some exceptions, which we’ll cover in the next section.

Rule 2: Time, Money, and Distance

There are three types of nouns that can be either countable or uncountable, depending on the context: time, money, and distance. In these cases, “less” is used for amounts that are considered as a whole, while “fewer” is used for individual units. For example, you would say “less time” but “fewer minutes”, “less money” but “fewer dollars”, and “less distance” but “fewer miles”.

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Rule 3: Exceptions to the Rules

As with most rules in English, there are some exceptions to the “less vs. fewer” rule. For instance, “less” can be used with countable nouns when they are being measured or compared. For example, you would say “less than 10 people” or “less than 5 items”. Additionally, “fewer” can be used with uncountable nouns when they are being treated as distinct units. For example, you would say “fewer glasses of water” or “fewer grains of sand”.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ be used interchangeably?

No, ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ cannot be used interchangeably. They have different meanings and are used in different contexts.

What is the difference between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’?

‘Fewer’ is used when referring to countable items, while ‘less’ is used when referring to non-countable items. For example, you would use ‘fewer’ when talking about the number of apples, but ‘less’ when talking about the amount of juice.

When should I use ‘less’ instead of ‘fewer’?

You should use ‘less’ when referring to non-countable items, such as water, sand, or air. For example, you would say “I need less water” instead of “I need fewer water”.

How do I know when to use ‘fewer’ instead of ‘less’?

You should use ‘fewer’ when referring to countable items, such as apples, books, or people. For example, you would say “There are fewer people in the room” instead of “There are less people in the room”.

What are some examples of using ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ correctly?

Correct usage of ‘less’: “I need less sugar in my coffee”, “There is less sand on the beach today”.

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Correct usage of ‘fewer’: “There are fewer cars on the road today”, “I have fewer pencils than you”.

Are there any exceptions to the ‘less vs. fewer’ rule?

Yes, there are some exceptions to the ‘less vs. fewer’ rule. For example, it is acceptable to use ‘less’ with countable items when referring to a quantity or amount, such as “less than five minutes” or “less than ten dollars”.

Last Updated on November 9, 2023

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