It’s a battle between words: fewer vs. less. Are they interchangeable? Do these words have different meanings? How can we use them correctly?
Many people don’t realize that these two words do not share the same meaning and therefore cannot be used interchangeably. As a result, both fewer and less are often used incorrectly.
The difference in meaning may be subtle, but it’s significant and remarkably easy to remember. Let’s see what Dictionary.com has to say about these two words:
fewer: adjective 1. of a smaller number: fewer words and more action.
less: adjective 1. smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much: less money; less speed.
The grammar rules are clear; let me break them down for you.
Fewer vs. Less? Which is Correct?
Fewer and less respectively refer to a number of items or an amount of something. The easiest way to remember which of these adjectives to use in a given situation is this:
Fewer should be used when the items in question can be counted:
He has fewer books than his best friend has.
Less is used when the amount of something cannot be counted:
He has less interest in reading than his best friend has.
Note that books can be counted item by item. However, interest is not a thing that can be counted, although we can discuss how much of it someone has.
The basic difference here is countability. Use fewer for countable nouns like individuals, cars, and pens. Use less for uncountable nouns such as love, time, and respect.
Do note, however, that there are some sticky spots to watch out for when determining whether you should use fewer or less. For example, you might need less paper but you will need fewer sheets of paper. You have fewer pennies but less money. You want fewer chocolate bars but less candy.
Fewer or Less
Now you know how to tell the difference between fewer vs. less.
Do you have questions about correctly using fewer or less or any other word pairs? Maybe you have something to add to this linguistic look at tricky adjectives. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and let’s discuss.