"Less" vs. "Fewer"

Published on 07 Dec, 2016

Generic Grammar

The correctness of using ‘less’ versus ‘fewer’ in a sentence eludes many.

These words are often used interchangeably, but inappropriately.

The Plain English Campaign has a simple thumb rule to help everyone: ‘less’ means ‘not as much’, whereas ‘fewer’ means ‘not as many’.

Confused still?

Simply put, ‘fewer’ applies to things you can count, while ‘less’ applies to those you cannot. ‘Fewer’ highlights numbers and modifies plural nouns, while ‘less’ emphasizes degree, bulk or quantity.

Use fewer when talking about people or things in the plural (such as pets, newspapers, children, homes). 

For instance:

  • Fewer pets are being sent to the local veterinarian for his lack of finesse.
  • Nuclear families now seem to have fewer children.
  • Fewer homes are being mortgaged now than before.

Use less when you’re referring to something that cannot be counted or does not take a plural (such as time, income, salad).

For instance:

  • A better job might bring you less income.
  • There is less music in popular numbers today.

Make it Easy

  • Use fewer when talking about numbers of separate items. [fewer apples, fewer coins]
  • Use less for quantities that cannot be counted individually. [less flour, less time]