Word Choice – Less Versus Fewer

Deborah’s question: “I see and hear in the media, and in conversations the word ‘less’ being used instead of ‘fewer.’  It is a pet peeve of mine, and I see it on T.V., in print, on packaging, and I hear it on the radio – the CBC no less! Has there been a change in grammar?”

BizWritingTip response: No, there has not been a change in grammar. However, when it comes to the words “less” and “fewer,” “less” is the more commonly heard word. But this is not always correct.

You should use fewer when referring to plural nouns, e.g., reports, forms, templates, people or books.

Examples

I would prefer to write fewer reports.

Fewer employees want to attend the conference.

Fewer than fifty people signed the petition.

I should consume fewer calories.

Use less when you’re referring to singular nouns or when referring to amounts, e.g., snow, money, time, hope, or rain).

Examples

It’s a great job, but you will earn less money.

I hope we have less snow next year.

They were out of the country for less than six months.

Here’s an easy way to remember this rule. If you can insert a number before the noun (three reports, five cars,) use fewer. If you can’t add a number, then go with less.

Because there are fewer cars on the road at 6 a.m., it takes less time to get to work.

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