English grammar can be difficult, even for native English speakers. When English is your second language it can seem even harder to understand the many grammar rules.
This article looks at two words that are often misused and confused in writing and speech – fewer and less – and shows you how to use them correctly.
The word “fewer” refers to nouns that are countable. When we say a noun is countable, it simply means that we can make it plural (usually by adding an “s” at the end). Here are some examples of countable nouns – cat, cats, bike, bikes, child, children, and so on. We can use “fewer” to refer to all of these nouns in the following ways:
“There are fewer cats in Scotland than in England.”
“There are now fewer bikes in China than ten years ago.”
“Fewer children read books these days.”
In general, the word “less” is used to refer to nouns that are not countable. Uncountable nouns include things as well as emotional states: for example, rice cannot be made plural by adding an “s”, nor can “information”, “concern”, “happiness”, “anger”, and so on. Here are some examples:
“She had less information on the art course than the history course.”
“He has less concern about paying the bills now he has a better job.”
“Does poverty result in less happiness?”
“Less anger in the world would means fewer wars.”
Note here that “fewer” is included in the sentence and refers to the countable noun “war”.
However, we need to bear in mind that the expression “less than” is placed in front of a plural noun that refers to a measure of time or distance or amount of something:
“We need to be at work in less than half an hour.” (time)
“I now owe the bank less than a thousand dollars.” (amount)
“They had travelled for less than twenty miles when the tire got a puncture.” (distance)
Fewer and less can also be used with plural nouns with the expression “no…than”. Let us look at some examples:
“No fewer than 500 people came to see the first night of the show.”
“No less than 500 people attended the conference.”
You can also use “less” with the expression “or less”:
“Write an essay about socialism in two thousand words or less.”
As you can see, there are many ways to use both “fewer” and “less”. By knowing the grammar rules, you can confidently and correctly use both words in your written and spoken English.
The Key Blog
Hello and welcome to The Key Blog! This is where you'll find information and tips on writing, proofreading, and the English language in general. Feel free to use the articles in your own e-zines, blogs or websites etc., as long as you include the resource box. Thank you!