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Word Choice – Fewer Versus Less

BizWritingTip reader: “Are the words fewer and less interchangeable. I see them used often but seem to recall there is a rule about which one to use.”

BizWritingTip response: Less refers to things that cannot be counted. Fewer refers to things that can be counted. Another way to look at it is that less means “not as much”; fewer means “not as many.”

Examples (Correct — You could also say “not as many.”)

We can now do our work with fewer mistakes.
There were fewer cars on the road this morning.

Examples (Correct — You could also say “not as much.”)

It will take us less time to complete the project.
There is less dissatisfaction in the unit.

The expression less than precedes plural nouns referring to periods of time, amounts of money, and quantities.

Examples

He earns less than $50,000 a year.
Less than fifteen years ago, emails were not a business tool.
Less than two hundred people were in the audience.

Quiz
1. There were less/fewer rejections on the line.
2. There were less/fewer people in the emergency room last night.
3. The meeting lasted less than/fewer than two hours.
4. Because less/fewer customization was required, they should pay less/fewer than they did last time.
5. Although they spent less/fewer days preparing for the presentation, they had less/fewer trouble with the equipment.

Answers?(1) fewer, (2) fewer, (3) less, (4) less and less, (5) fewer and less

 

Word Choice – Further Versus Farther

BizWritingTip reader: “I understand these words may now be interchangeable. Could you comment on whether this is true? I always understood that farther was used for literal references, for example, for geographic distance. The word further is used when the reference is figurative, for example, ‘I am further along in the process.’ Your thoughts would be welcome.”

BizWritingTip response: This question is quite interesting, Tim. My initial response was “of course, you are right.” Further is used for an abstract distance and indicates “to a greater degree” or “to a greater extent.”

Examples

I wish I was further along in writing the proposal.
What further proof do you need?

Farther refers to actual distance.

Examples

The new office location is farther from my home than I would like.
How much farther do we have to travel?

But, in doing an additional check with my dictionary and grammar books, I found that some reference books now consider these words interchangeable.

The Oxford Canadian Dictionary states that “farther” is a variant of “further.”

Frankly, I intend to stick with the traditional way of writing farther and further. However, if you can’t keep them straight, I don’t imagine many readers will call you on it.