I haven’t gotten on my high horse about grammar errors in a while, so I guess I’d better write an article about another common goof or risk my reputation as a grammar grouch. Today we answer the question of “fewer” vs. “less”—which is correct?
Both are legitimate words, of course. It’s a matter of when it’s correct to use one versus the other. Most people today make the mistake of saying (or writing) “less” when they mean “fewer.” They say “less pounds” when it should be “fewer pounds,” “less inches” when they mean “fewer inches,” “less dishes” when it should be “fewer dishes.”
“Less” is used when we’re talking about an uncountable amount, something that can’t be numbered. “Fewer,” on the other hand, is used when talking about a quantity—something that can be numbered or counted.
Pounds, inches, dishes to be washed, cats in the house, trips at night to the bathroom. All of those things have a number. So we say “fewer pounds,” “fewer inches,” “fewer dishes,” “fewer cats,” “fewer (hopefully) trips at night to the bathroom.”
Only use “less” when it’s something more amorphous, something that can’t be numbered or counted: less trouble, less anxiety, less energy, less color, less noise.
See the difference? If you can count or number it, say “fewer,” not “less.”
Are you one of the culprits in this little piece of language disintegration? Consider yourself officially ticketed by the grammar police.
Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry professional