fewer, less

fewer, less
   "In the first four months of the year Rome s tourists were 700,000 less than in the corresponding period last year" (Guardian). Probably no other pair of words causes more problems, and with less justification, than less and fewer. The generally cited rule is that less applies to quantity and fewer to number. A rougher but more helpful guide is to use less with singular nouns (less money, less sugar) and fewer with plural nouns (fewer houses, fewer doctors). Thus the quotation above should be either "Rome's tourists [plural noun] were 700,000 fewer" or "the number [singular noun] of tourists was 700,000 less."
   An apparent exception to the rule can be seen here: ". . . but some people earn fewer than $750 a year" (Times). Although $750 is inarguably a plural sum, it functions as a singular. We see it as a totality, not as a collection of individual dollars. Thus the sentence should read "less than $750." In the same way it would be wrong to write, "He lives fewer than fifty miles from London" because fifty miles is being thought of as a total distance and not as fifty individual miles.
   Another problem worth noting occurs in this sentence: "Representatives have offered to produce the Sunday supplements on one fewer press than at present" (Times). Idiom, according to Bernstein, doesn't allow "one fewer press." You must make it either "one press fewer," which is more grammatical, or "one less press," which is more idiomatic.

Dictionary of troublesome word. . 2013.

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  • fewer / less —    Fewer should be used when talking about things that can be counted: Lureen has fewer ideas than you; also a few keys, few clouds, few values, few diseases.    Less is used when talking about things that can t be counted: Lureen shows less… …   Confused words

  • fewer / less —    Fewer should be used when talking about things that can be counted: Lureen has fewer ideas than you; also a few keys, few clouds, few values, few diseases.    Less is used when talking about things that can t be counted: Lureen shows less… …   Confused words

  • Fewer/less — In traditional prescriptive grammar less is the comparative used when speaking of a continuous quantity that is not numerically quantifiable (that is, with mass nouns). Fewer , on the other hand, is used of discrete quantity and numerically… …   Wikipedia

  • fewer, less — Both of these words imply a comparison with something larger in number or amount. Fewer is preferred when number is involved (fewer houses on this street, fewer fish in the stream). Less is used in several ways: it is applied to material in bulk… …   Dictionary of problem words and expressions

  • fewer, less —  Use less with singular nouns (less money, less sugar) and fewer with plural nouns (fewer houses, fewer cars) …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • less — fewer, less As a general guide, fewer is used with plural nouns (fewer books, fewer people) and indicates number, whereas less is used with singular nouns and indicates amount (less money / less happiness). However, there is an extensive no man s …   Modern English usage

  • fewer — fewer, less As a general guide, fewer is used with plural nouns (fewer books, fewer people) and indicates number, whereas less is used with singular nouns and indicates amount (less money / less happiness). However, there is an extensive no man s …   Modern English usage

  • fewer — *less, lesser, smaller …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • less — /les/, adv., a compar. of little with least as superl. 1. to a smaller extent, amount, or degree: less exact. 2. most certainly not (often prec. by much or still): He could barely pay for his own lodging, much less for that of his friend. 3. in… …   Universalium

  • less */*/*/ — UK [les] / US adverb, determiner, preposition, pronoun Summary: Less is the comparative form of the function word little and can be used in the following ways: as a determiner (before a noun): Eat less fat. ♦ Schools put less emphasis on being… …   English dictionary

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