One More Time Editing

You write. We edit. One more time.

The Editing Service That Reads Every Word

Less than or fewer than; that is the question.

I have become increasingly frustrated by the incorrect word usage I hear every day - very often from broadcast journalists on national broadcasts. I have decided , therefore, to start posting a word usage tip of the day, to help people at large learn the correct usage of common words and expressions. If there is a word or expression about which you are uncertain,  I welcome your questions and suggestions, and will happily post a blog answering it. (Names will be kept confidential)

Today's usage tip: When to use fewer than vs. less than. In most conversations, people will mistakenly use the words "less than" for any reference to a volume of one thing that is smaller than the other. For example, I have heard people say, " I have less books on my e-reader than you do." Most people would think that sentence is correct, but the sentence should be, "I have fewer books on my e-reader than you do." 

How do you know which word to use?

If the item or items you are talking about can be counted, the word you use is FEWER .

If the item or items you are talking about cannot be counted, the proper word is LESS. 

Here are a few examples:

1. a.There are less birds coming to our bird feeder this year than last year. Incorrect 

1. b. There are fewer birds coming to our bird feeder this year than last year.  Correct, because the number of birds at the feeder can be counted on any given day, or over a series of days. 

 2. a. There are so many less people here than I expected. Incorrect

 2. b. There are fewer people here than I expected. Correct, because the number of people in a given space can be counted.

3. a.  I have less weight to lose than you do. Correct, because the general term " weight" is not specific and cannot be counted.

3. b. I have fewer pounds to lose than you do.  Correct because the number of pounds is specific and can be counted. 

Hopefully this has helped you understand the difference between "fewer than" and "less than". Now you can go forth with confidence and make fewer grammatical errors!  :-)